How Terrific Is Teff?

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Move over, quinoa, there is a new trendy grain in town and it goes by the name teff. This cereal has been cultivated for thousands of years and is grown by millions of farmers, and with the expanding market for gluten-free foods, teff is gaining popularity (and a lot of it). So let’s learn more about this nutritious little grain.

What is teff?

Teff, from the plant Eragrostis tef, is a gluten-free grain originally from Ethiopia. The grains themselves are very small—about the size of a poppy seed—and can be ground into flour for incorporation into breads and other baked goods or boiled in water to make a thick porridge resembling cream of wheat. Teff is most commonly fermented to make injera, which is a risen flat bread and one of the most popular foods in Ethiopia.

How super is this “superfood”?

For being such a small whole grain, teff makes a big, nutritious impact. The high starch content in teff makes it an acceptable source of carbohydrates if substituted for wheat or teffother cereals. Teff is also an excellent source of fiber, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus. When incorporated into bread flour, teff increases the iron content of wheat bread significantly from 2.54 mg per 100 g to 7.64 mg per 100 g serving. In comparison to other grains, teff contains higher amounts of all amino acids and has been found to have an amino acid profile similar to an egg. The fact teff is gluten-free makes it an excellent option for individuals diagnosed with celiac disease or who might have a gluten intolerance.

So should I start eating teff?

Teff can be a great addition to a healthy diet. Though there are not many clinical studies that assess the affect of teff consumption on nutritional status, there are a few studies that examine the nutrition content and palatability of foods with added teff.

One such study looked at the effect of substituting teff in varying percentages for flour in wheat bread. The study found that a substitution of 5 percent teff flour maintains acceptable taste, texture and aroma. Another study found that teff flour could be substituted for rice flour in higher percentages, as high as 50 percent, before affecting the acceptability of muffins.

There is no doubt that teff has a strong nutritional profile and potential as a gluten-free alternative. And for those without gluten intolerances, it is another whole grain that can be incorporated into a healthy diet to maximize your nutritional status. However, there is no scientific evidence at this point to suggest it is a magical cure-all. So while there may be some reasons to “teff it out” and try this alternative grain, don’t forget other grains like barley, oats, brown rice, cornmeal, quinoa, and bulgur or foods that contain whole grains like bread, pasta, cereal, and granola bars.