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Teff from A to Z: 26 Foodie Facts

Teff from A to Z: 26 Foodie Facts

Discover more about how to use this 100% gluten free superfood with this list of fascinating facts and figures.

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Ancient. Cultivated in the Horn of Africa from time immemorial, today’s teff probably derives from a wild variety (the Eragrostis pilosa) which was domesticated between 6000 and 3000 years ago.

Beer. Known as t'alla, this typical Ethiopian and Eritrean home-made beer with a low alcohol content is produced from teff and other grains (sorghum and barley) together with “gesho” leaves (an African shrub used for fermentation purposes): it is dark and dense with notes of honey and hops on the palate.

Cereal. This "super grain" which, according to most experts, is about to give quinoa the push, is an undeniable “giant” in nutritional terms: rich in carbohydrates, fibre, proteins, essential amino acids, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C and B Group vitamins, it is also 100% gluten-free.

Data. In Ethiopia alone, this grain is grown by more than 6.5 million farmers and occupies 20% of arable land, amounting to an annual yield of around 4.5 million tons of teff. 90% of the teff marketed worldwide comes from Ethiopia.

Eragrostis tef. This is the scientific name for teff: it literally means "lovegrass" (eros+agrostis). It is an annual crop.

Flour. Teff gives us a versatile flour, whose flavour is slightly sweet and nutty: excellent for bread-making, it lends itself equally well to making biscuits, leavened cakes, tarts, muffins, pancakes, waffles, fancy breads, breadsticks and crackers. It is also used as a thickener for stews, soups, sauces and puddings.

Gursha. Also known as gorsha or goorsha, this term refers to the custom of exchanging food morsels which, in Ethiopia and Eritrea, involves teff bread (see injera). It is a sign of friendship and love: a small piece of injera bread is broken off and wrapped around a morsel of stew before popping it into the mouth of one’s companion, who does likewise.

Hagaiz. It is one of the many cultivated varieties with creamy white grains. On the subject of varieties… about 1600 have been classified: they vary from ivory white to red, passing through various shades of brown (such as the so-called "tseddia" variety) and black. Broadly speaking, for commercial purposes teff falls into three categories: white ("netch"), red/brown ("qey") or mixed ("sergegna").

Injera. Also called taita, this is unquestionably one of the staple foods in the Horn of Africa. It is a leavened bread made from teff flour fermented in water: a thick batter, when poured onto a hotplate or griddle and cooked for a few minutes, becomes a sort of large spongy crêpe with an acidulous taste. It is then served with meat and vegetable stews such as the thick spicy "wat", for instance, or zighinì (see below). Another typical Ethiopian "bread" made from teff flour is the "kit'ta": however, this is an unleavened bread.

Julie Lanford. As reported in The New York Times, she is one of the few American nutritionists and dieticians to recommend teff as a precious life-saving foodstuff.

Katikala. It is an Ethiopian distilled spirit made from mixed grains, including teff.

Lorna Sass. According to the famous food writer, author of cookery books and one of the "Culinary Advisors" of the "Oldways Whole Grains Council" in Boston, the best way to cook teff grain is to use a "dry method", that is to say, pan tossed for 6-7 minutes with a cup of water (one of water and one of teff), before leaving it to rest for 5 minutes covered with a cloth and finally served on top of tossed vegetables and soups.

Marcus Samuelsson. The celebrated US chef of Ethiopian origin and owner of the acclaimed "Red Rooster Harlem", has recently revisited a miso ramen with the noodles reinterpreted using teff flour.

Numbers. It is the smallest grain known to mankind: just think, one pound of teff contains as many as 1,250,000 tiny grains! Each little grain has a diameter ranging between 0.8 and 1 mm. Furthermore: about 500 grams of teff are more than sufficient to sow one hectare of land.

Organoleptical. On the palate, teff tastes slightly sweet, while the white varieties are more subtle in flavour (some recall the taste of chestnuts, for example). The dark coloured varieties taste “earthier” and nutty, with chocolaty notes at times. The darker the variety, the more pronounced, assertive and textural it will taste.

Porridge & polenta. When cooked in lightly salted water, wholegrain teff becomes a gelatinous porridge with a nutty taste: it can be served hot with milk, fresh fruit, honey or maple syrup exactly like porridge oats. Another recipe involves cooking teff flour with chickpea flour and milk: in Ethiopia this polenta is called fafa.

Qita. A bread disc made from teff, barley and wheat flours: cooked on a hot griddle, it is then served whole spread with niter qibe (seasoned clarified butter) aromatized with a berbere spice mix or cut into strips and, once spread with niter qibe, popped into the oven (chechebsa).

Recipes. The "Whole Grains Council" of Boston (Massachusetts) has published an interesting selection with a lot of ideas featuring teff. The recipes range from coconut curry, lentils and teff, to a vegetarian meatloaf, from teff polenta served with chicken casserole to a vegan chilli with teff, millet and beans. Without forgetting waffles and biscuits (how do you feel about a combination of teff, chocolate drops and peanut butter?) delicious crêpes and bread (see the banana and chocolate flavoured ones).

Star system. Neither have the many virtues of teff gone unnoticed in Hollywood: the tabloids have dedicated ample space, for instance, to the fact that beauties such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham have joined the fan club of this grain.

Tobia Teff. This is the trademark with which Ethiopian businesswoman Sophie Sirak-Kebede has launched the grain in the United Kingdom: founded in 2008, following a five-year period in catering, this is one of the most popular brands for teff-based flour, bread and breakfast cereals, as well as being a go-to name for gluten-free products on the British market.

Usa Today. Teff is widely grown in the USA, mainly in Idaho Minnesota, as well as in Nevada, California and Texas.

Vocabulary. Besides "tef" or "teff" (from the Amharic term "ṭēff", meaning "lost") which is common to the Spanish and French (who also call it "mil éthopien"), Dutch, Germans, Italians, Portuguese, Russians and even Indonesians, this grain also goes under the name of "Williams lovegrass", "Abyssinian lovegrass", or "(warm season) annual bunch grass" in almost all English-speaking countries; "mtefi" in Swahili; "ṭāff" in Tigrinya; "tahaf" in the Yemen; "tefgras" in South Africa.

Wayne Carlson. He is considered the "father" of American teff. Founder of "The Teff Company", in 1984 he started to cultivate the ancient grain in Snake River Valley, in Idaho, importing the first seeds from Ethiopia where he had lived until the late ‘70s. In the space of a few years, under the guidance of Carlson, dozens of American farmers started to grow teff successfully, in response to an ever-growing demand for this grain on the domestic market.

Xtra hot. Not at all... Despite being called "lovegrass", teff has no aphrodisiacal properties at all.

Young children. Thanks to its richness in nutritional terms, teff is recommended also to prepare food for young children, especially if they suffer from celiac.

Zighinì. The most important one course meal, one of the most famous dishes of Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somali cuisines, is always accompanied with teff in the form of injera (see above) because the spongy “crêpe” acts as both a plate and cutlery: broken off piece by piece with the hands, it is used to wrap and enjoy morsels of spicy stew (containing chicken, lamb or beef), vegetables and whole or pureed pulses (such as the lentil "tum'tumo" with mixed berbere spices or the "scirò" of chickpeas or broad beans with spices).

Zamora. Together with León, Palencia, Salamanca and Valladolid, it is one of the five Castilian provinces where teff production has been successfully introduced: today, Spain is the number one European exporter of this grain.

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