Teff: A Surprising Addition to the Gluten-Free Diet

in Celiac, The Celiac Expert

Teff, a major cereal crop of Ethiopia, is the smallest of all grains in the world. About 100 to 150 teff grains equal the size of one wheat kernel. The grains range in color from milky white to almost black. White, red and brown varieties are the most common types found in Ethiopia, while brown and ivory teff is grown in the United States. Teff does not contain gluten.

Teff is more nutritious than major cereal grains such as wheat and corn for several reasons. For one, its small size means the germ and bran account for a higher proportion of the seed compared to other grains.

Also, the entire whole-grain seed is used, unlike wheat or rice, where the outer coating (bran) is often removed. Teff is rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, thiamin and zinc. It’s also a good source of fiber, protein and other B vitamins.

Teff has a nutty, mild, molasses-like flavor and can be purchased as a grain or flour. The flour is used to make Ethiopian injera, a sourdough-style flatbread that is chewy and moist. In some North American restaurants, injera is made with a combination of teff flour and wheat or barley flour which is not gluten-free.

Injera is traditionally eaten with wot, a spicy sauce or stew made of chicken, beef or lamb, or from spicy ground lentils and peas.

Using Teff is Not Tough

Type of teffUsed as or inHow to do it
Whole-grain seedSide dish instead of rice or potatoes, or in a vegetarian burger with seeds, beans or tofu, and seasoningsAdd ½ cup teff grain to 2 cups of boiling water. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes or until water is absorbed. Stir occasionally.
Whole grain-seedThickener for soups and stewsAdd uncooked grain to your soup pot 30 minutes before serving or add cooked teff (see above) to the pot 10 minutes before serving.
Whole-grain seedHot breakfast cerealCook as above, and add brown sugar or honey, nuts, raisins and cinnamon. Or, add 1 tbsp whole-grain seed when cooking cream of brown or white rice.
FlourBaked products, especially dark breads and cakes (e.g. chocolate cake, brownies, gingerbread), muffins and cookiesCombine with other gluten-free flours. Use 25-50 per cent teff in a total flour blend.
FlourPancakesUse 100 per cent teff flour, or a combination with other gluten-free flours.
FlourEthiopian Flat Bread, injeraSee Shelley’s recipe for gluten-free injera here.

Shelley Case is a consulting dietitian and author of Gluten-Free: The Definitive Resource Guide. She is on the advisory boards of the Canadian Celiac Association, the Celiac Disease Foundation and Gluten Intolerance Group.