Here, we’re going to delve into the smallest grain there is. Teff comes to us from Ethiopia. Its tiny size (less than 1mm in diameter) has led some to believe that its name comes from the Amharic word for “lost.” Teff is relatively new to developing countries but thrives in Ethiopia and has for some time. It perfectly fits the semi-nomadic lifestyle. Its size makes it convenient because it doesn’t take a large volume of teff seed to plant a field and it cooks faster than larger grains. Teff can handle almost anything this planet can dish out. It can be grown basically anywhere because it can survive both wet and dry climates, can grow at sea level or up to 3000 meters elevation, and is generally not subject to so many plant diseases as are other cereal grains.
As a plant, teff comes in a few color varieties including purple, gray, red, or yellowish brown. As a seed, it varies from a dark reddish brown to a light ivory color. Some assume that it has a sour taste because it is so commonly fermented when used. But if it’s not fermented, it has a light sweet taste which some have even described as “nutty.”
Teff has done great things for its Ethiopian cultivators. Teff is considered responsible for the health and vigor of Ethiopian distance runners. It is estimated that Ethiopians get two-thirds of their protein from the teff in their diet. In Ethiopia, teff is mostly used to make injera – a sourdough, spongy flatbread similar in width to a pancake. Injera is a very common cuisine in Ethiopia and is often served as a kind of edible plate.
Porridge and alcoholic beverages have also commonly been made from teff. Today, however, the world is really branching out in uses for teff. It is now found in many gluten-free options of pancakes, breads, cereals, pie crusts, cookies, and other snacks. But teff is a little guy with a big skill set. Apart from being used for baking, teff can be eaten whole, steamed, or boiled.