What looks like a poppy seed, cooks like a whole grain, has more protein than quinoa, and is technically classified as a cultivated annual grass? The answer is teff, one of the world’s oldest domesticated plants. This guide to teff grain and teff flour has the information you need to buy, cook, and enjoy this super-grain, with links to recipes.
Although you’re not likely to come across whole teff grain at the average supermarket, it is making its way to greater renown thanks to surging interest in superfoods. Teff is a prime candidate for that title as an incredibly nutritious staple that has sustained populations since before the common era.
Even if you haven’t gone out of your way to try it, you may have already eaten teff without already knowing. More commonly used as flour, especially in the U.S. and other western countries, it’s the foundation of gluten-free breads, meal-replacement shakes, and so much more.
Learn exactly what it is you’re eating and enjoy the full range of flavors that teff has to offer.
What is Teff and Where Did It Come From?
Although written records fail us for such an ancient food, teff originated somewhere around 4,000 BCE; 6,000 years ago, in Eritrea and Ethiopia. Each kernel is so tiny (less than 1mm in diameter, or smaller than the head of a pin) that it’s believed the name comes from the Amharic word for “lost.”
Perfectly adapted to the semi-nomadic lifestyle of early Ethiopians, it grows quickly, requiring very little to produce large amounts of food, and can thrive in almost any climate. This adaptability has many climate scientists pinning the hopes for the global food supply on this little seed since it can flourish in the face of increasingly extreme conditions.
An indispensable staple crop of Ethiopia, it’s estimated that inhabitants get up to 66% of their daily protein intake from this plant source. Commonly ground into a fine flour, lightly fermented, and cooked into flatbread, the resulting injera has become a beloved food worldwide. It’s used as an edible utensil to scoop up various stews and cooked vegetables, adding flavor and fun to every meal.
Naturally sweet, raw teff has a subtle cocoa or chocolate flavor with nutty undertones. Once fermented, it becomes sour and quite tangy, providing a contrast that keeps eaters coming back for more. These same properties make it a prime candidate for making alcoholic beverages, known as tella or talla and tastes similar to a light beer.
Today, much of the teff in the Western market is grown in Idaho, marketed as Maskal Teff.
How to Buy and Store Teff
Whole teff grain may be tricky to find in stores, but there are plenty of sources for buying it online. You’re more likely to encounter teff flour in natural foods stores and specialty markets.
Avoid anything stored in bulk bins, since it tends to sit around longer than most options due to shoppers being unfamiliar with the seed. This leads to rancidity and an extra serving of dust.
Whole teff and teff flour are affordable, ranging from $3 to $5 per pound. Store the whole grain or the flour in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Like all whole grains, it’s best used not long after purchasing for fresher flavor. If you find you won’t be using it for some time, refrigerate in its original packaging, or even frozen in its uncooked state.
For the best selection, search online and buy straight from the source. Prominent brands for teff grain and teff flour include The Teff Company, Bob’s Red Mill, and Shiloh Farms.
How to Cook Teff
Whole teff seeds are typically cooked to make porridge or pudding, as they don’t cook into separate, fluffy grains as you would expect from quinoa or rice. The amount of liquid varies depending on your preference for thickness, but an average range is typically 1 cup of whole teff to 2 to 3 cups of water. More water results in a more porridge-like consistency. Less water will result in a slightly grainier texture, though teff will never be fluffy, like quinoa.
Teff grain is too tiny to be rinsed in an average sieve, even one with fine mesh, so many sources suggest to simply skip this step. Combine the grain with water in a medium saucepan. Start with a lesser amount of liquid first, increasing if need be.
Bring to a simmer and cook gently, stirring or whisking frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened. Teff porridge best enjoyed hot, enhanced with a touch of cinnamon and sweetener if desired.
Injera, a traditional sourdough flatbread traditional to Ethiopia
Using teff flour
Teff flour has a strong flavor, so it’s often used in conjunction with more neutral flours. To easily use teff flour in any baking recipe, it can replace from ¼ to ½ of the flour as written. However, if you’re a great fan of this flour, there’s no reason you can’t use it straight up. In addition to adding a wide range of nutritional benefits, it makes treats that are incredibly tender and flavorful.
Teff flour used alone is best in cookies, pancakes, and flatbreads, that is, anything that doesn’t require much rising. The greater the proportion of teff flour for baked goods, the more you’ll need an additional binder like xanthan gum or guar gum, as mentioned earlier.
The most famous use for teff flour is for making injera, the fermented national bread of Ethiopia. It’s kind of a cross between a pancake and a flatbread. If you’ve ever eaten at an Ethiopian restaurant, it’s what you use instead of utensils to scoop up a variety of savory dishes that come with it, often called wats, and many of which are centered on vegetables.
Teff Nutrition Notes
Despite its minuscule size, teff packs in a huge amount of vital nutrients. It’s an excellent source of calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and B6, just for starters. These vitamins can be more difficult to source on a plant-based or gluten-free diet but are abundant in every serving.
Teff is notably high in protein and fiber, which makes it a popular choice for athletes as well, particularly those who need a lot of endurance, such as long-distance runners.
Teff is gluten-free so it’s a great choice for those with celiac disease. This also means that when baking with the flour, an additional binder will be necessary, such as xanthan gum or guar gum. Here is more complete nutrition information for teff grain and teff flour.
Teff Serving Suggestions
Injera: These fermented flatbreads are the best-know way that teff flour is enjoyed around the world, as Ethiopian restaurants have popped up everywhere. For the average home cook, it can be tricky to get the batter just right, but if you’re adventurous and have patience, you can give it a try. Here’s a recipe from the Food Network.
Porridge or breakfast cereal: Cook up the whole grains instead of oatmeal for an early morning boost or a warming lunch. For breakfast, sweeten lightly and add spices, fruit, and nuts. For a midday meal, go savory with a splash of soy sauce, and top with wilted greens and/or sautéed vegetables.
Pudding: Create a wholesome dessert by blending cooked teff into a smooth puree. Add sweetener, cocoa, and a little vanilla to accentuate the natural chocolate notes of the whole grain.
Bread: Although you’ll still need to use a mixture of regular flour, teff flour makes a great addition to traditional yeasted bread for added flavor and nutrition.
Stuffed vegetables: Add herbs and vegetables to the cooked porridge and stuff it into hollowed-out peppers, zucchini, or portobello mushrooms before baking. You’ll get a flavorful dish in a fully edible vessel.
Recipe Using Teff Grain
- Banana Almond Teff Porridge
- Simple and Sweet Teff Porridge
- Chickpea Tikki
- Teff Tabbouleh Salad
- Stuffed Mushrooms
- Teff Bowl with Avocado, Chickpeas, & Lemon-Tahini Sauce
Recipes Using Teff Flour
- Crispy Tofu and Chipotle Glaze
- Apple Galette (swap in vegan butter)
- Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Teff Cookies
- 100% Teff Injera
- Gluten-Free Vegan Teff Brownies
- Teff Pasta
- Teff and Oat Bread
- Seeded Teff Crackers
More ancient grain guides
And explore more of this site’s Good Food Guides.
Contributed by Hannah Kaminsky: Hannah has developed an international following for her delicious recipes and mouthwatering food photography at the award-winning blog BitterSweet. Passionate about big flavors and simple techniques, she’s the author of Vegan Desserts, Vegan à la Mode, Easy as Vegan Pie, Real Food, Really Fast, Sweet Vegan Treats, The Student Vegan Cookbook, Super Vegan Scoops, and The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet Pan. Visit Hannah at BittersweetBlog.com.
All photos: Bigstock