Teff, or eragrostis tef, is native to Ethiopia and is the world’s tiniest grain. It is about the size of a poppy seed but packs a huge nutritional punch. It is full of calcium, protein, iron and is also a great source of fiber so you stay full and are able to regularly “take care of business.” Teff is also naturally gluten free and is a resistant starch. Resistant starches are not digested in the small intestine but, instead, processed by bacteria in your colon. These bacteria turn it into molecules that help maintain good gut health and balance blood sugar.
Traditionally, Ethiopians mill the teff grain into a flour, mix it with water, let it ferment and then bake it into a large crepe like pancake called injera. This is then used to scoop up stews and vegetables. Injera has a sourdough taste with a slightly sponge like texture. Teff has naturally occurring yeast so when fermented, it creates a deep flavor and color while giving off enough carbon dioxide to help the dough rise.
So why are you just hearing about teff now? Well, it’s incredibly challenging to grow so it isn’t widely popular among US farmers (yet). In 2015, my dad and I started to grow Teff on our farm in southern Michigan. We were facing plummeting corn prices and he knew that if he wanted to save the land that seven generations of our family had farmed, he needed to try something different. He turned to teff. Neither of us had heard of teff before, and there are only a handful of people growing it in the US. We turned to them for advice and took the plunge.
In our first year growing teff, we planted 33 acres of ivory and red teff – that’s 25 football fields! Teff is tricky to grow and it was a learning curve to determine when/how much to water, what temperature it thrived at, how humidity impacts its quality, and how to harvest it. Soil composition, and what was historically grown on the field, can also affect crop growth. Slowly, we’re learning to managing these variables and we’ve increased teff production each year. We expand only as we can ensure we’re growing a high quality teff that makes an excellent product.
Many brands are discovering the unique features of teff and have started using the flour in gluten free blends and baking mixes. Always one to buck tradition, I decided to try using the whole teff grain instead. I mixed the grain with other nutrient dense ingredients like buckwheat groats, coconut oil and pumpkin seeds to elevate nutrition and flavor and Teffola, teff granola, was born. Teff’s nutty, almost malty taste is enhanced by nuts and seeds which makes it a perfect granola ingredient. When my sister ate a pound of Teffola in 2 days, I realized I was onto something and decided to share the benefits of teff with others.
Teffola is now made at Proud Mitten Shared Kitchen and is available throughout the region at a variety of stores. You can also get Teffola shipped directly to your front door! Join the alternative grain trend and add some additional flavor and health to your routine.
Claire Smith is the owner of Tenera Grains. When she’s not baking delicious batches of Teffola from her family’s grains, you can find her spending all her free time spoiling her adorable niece. Learn more at teneragrains.com