Teff: a nutritious and gluten-free ancient grain

Teff (Eragrostis tef) is an annual gluten-free crop that belongs to the grass family (Poaceae). The edible seeds of the plant (teff grains) are very small, so the seeds are not peeled, and teff is always a whole grain. Traditionally, teff is mainly grown in Ethiopia and Eritrea. But due to the increasing global demand for both authentic ancient grains and alternative, gluten-free grains, teff is being grown all over the world in 2021, including in the Netherlands. Because teff is an important supplier of complex carbohydrates, vegetable proteins, lots of fiber, vitamins and minerals, the grain is particularly nutritious. In addition, teff is gluten-free, which makes this ancient grain a suitable alternative to other gluten-free grains.

  • What is teff?
  • An ancient grain
  • Gluten-free grain
  • The nutritional value of teff
  • The health benefits of teff
  • Suitable for strengthening the intestinal microbiome
  • Suitable for diabetics and people who want to lose weight
  • Suitable for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity
  • Suitable for vegans and vegetarians
  • The use of different teff products
  • Whole grain teff
  • Teff flour
  • Teff flakes
  • Where is teff available?


What is teff?

Teff is a crop from the genus love grass (Eragrostis), which is part of the grass family (Poaceae). It is a gluten-free ancient grain with a high nutritional value. Teff has been cultivated for centuries in the Horn of Africa, mainly in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Here, teff is an important staple crop for the population. Teff is an annual plant, which can reach an average height of 150 to 200 cm. Teff is a fast growing crop. The process from sowing to harvesting takes place within approximately 90 days, depending on weather conditions. After the flowering period, particularly small seeds (teff grains) appear, which are among the smallest seeds in the world. Teff, which comes in many variations, can contain as many as 10,000 seeds and the seeds can be white, beige, light brown, red or dark brown in color. In 2021, the white and brown variants are the most popular. The crop adapts well and can therefore grow in different weather conditions. Partly because of this and the increasing demand for ancient grains and gluten-free grains, in 2021 teff is grown in India, Australia, parts of the United States and Europe. In the Netherlands, teff has been cultivated since the beginning of the 21st century. However, the climate risk for the cultivation of teff in the Netherlands is high. It should be dry around harvest time and in the Netherlands it is often too wet.

An ancient grain

Teff is an ancient grain. Ancient grains are age-old, unmanipulated grains. Because they are less processed, ancient grains contain specific amino acids and many minerals. These authentic grains have been forgotten and eventually largely replaced by wheat in the Western world. Due to genetic editing and monoculture (long-term cultivation of a single crop), important wheat nutrients have been lost. Partly because of this, ancient grains are making a comeback and teff is one of these authentic, returning grains.

Gluten-free grain

Teff is known as a gluten-free grain. However, the crop does contain a small proportion of gluten, but this is the so-called glutenin fraction and not the gliadin fraction, the harmful gluten component.

The nutritional value of teff

Per 100 grams, the ancient grain teff contains the following nutrients:

  • Fiber 8.0 (g)
  • Vitamin B1 0.4 (g)
  • Vitamin B2 0.3 (g)
  • Vitamin B3 3.3 (g)
  • Vitamin B5 0.9 (g)
  • Vitamin B6 0.5 (g)
  • Vitamin C 0.3 (g)
  • Calcium 180 (mg)
  • Sodium 12.0 (mg)
  • Potassium 427 (mg)
  • Phosphorus 429 (mg)
  • Iron 7.6 (mg)
  • Magnesium 184 (mg)
  • Copper 0.7 (mg)
  • Zinc 2 (mg)

Teff contains many vitamins from the B group and even a small proportion of vitamin C. In addition, teff is particularly rich in fiber and the grain contains many important minerals. Calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, copper and iron in particular are abundantly present.

The health benefits of teff

Suitable for strengthening the intestinal microbiome

Because teff is rich in fiber, teff keeps the intestines healthy and prevents both diarrhea and constipation. Teff largely contains insoluble fibers that, by absorbing water, make the stool softer and also stimulate intestinal movements.
The Health Council’s target group of five recommends a daily intake of 30 to 40 grams of fiber. The proportion of fiber in the whole grain teff is considerably higher compared to most other grains. This applies to all varieties of teff, but the highest proportion is found in brown teff. Sufficient fiber intake can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and also colon cancer.

Suitable for diabetics and people who want to lose weight

Teff is an important supplier of slowly digestible, complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) and thus provides the body with energy for a longer period of time. Because teff contains more polysaccharides, it prevents high blood sugar levels, which means less insulin is needed. This makes eating teff suitable for diabetics, athletes or people who want to lose weight.

Suitable for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity

Gluten is a group of proteins found in all grains. However, the grains that contain the gliadin fraction, such as wheat and spelt, can cause an inflammatory response in the body. This occurs in people with a gluten sensitivity or in people with the autoimmune disease celiac disease. Celiac disease causes a serious inflammatory reaction and damage to the small intestine with only minimal intake of the harmful gluten component. Improvement only occurs when an absolutely gluten-free diet is followed. Since, for example, corn, rice and teff do not contain the harmful gliadin fraction, these grains do not cause physical complaints in people with celiac disease or gluten hypersensitivity.

Suitable for vegans and vegetarians

Our body needs enough proteins every day, including for the production of muscle mass, certain enzymes and hormones. According to the Health Council’s 2015 Guidelines for a Good Diet, eating vegetable proteins provides many health benefits. The opposite is true for consuming too much animal protein, and specifically large amounts of red and processed meat. In 2021, animal proteins are still the most important source of proteins, but animal proteins are increasingly being replaced by vegetable proteins. When animal proteins are completely omitted, such as with vegans and partially with vegetarians, it is important to ensure sufficient intake of B1, B2, B12, iron and calcium. All these nutrients, except B12, are present in teff. This makes teff a suitable plant-based alternative to animal proteins. The high concentration of iron in teff in particular can contribute to the prevention of anemia. The high proportion of calcium present in teff, compared to most other grains, is important for various bodily processes. Calcium is responsible for bone building, muscle contraction, hormone metabolism and blood clotting, among other things. A calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis (bone decalcification).

The use of different teff products

Whole grain teff

For example, whole teff grains can be made into porridge or added to muesli. Teff can also be added to soup or stews. Because the seeds are so small, the cooking time is only about 15 minutes.

Teff flour

Teff flour, ground whole grains, is suitable for replacing wheat flour, for example. The flour can also be combined well with flour from other grains. Unlike many other types of gluten-free flour, teff flour is very suitable for baking. For example, muffins, brownies, cookies, waffles or pancakes can be made with it.

injera/enjera based on teff flour / Source: JIRCAS, Flickr (CC BY-2.0)

Injera/enjera is made from teff flour. This is a spongy, slightly sour pancake that is originally eaten in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Injera is traditionally topped with wot, a sauce made from meat or vegetables, such as lentils or chickpeas. Injera can be made from both white teff flour and brown teff flour.

Teff flakes

Teff flakes are crushed teff grains. These flakes can be used in many ways. The flakes can be added to yogurt or muesli or can be used to bake cake or cookies, for example. Teff flakes are also often added as an ingredient to foods. For example, in 2021, teff spaghetti and teffpenne are available based on teff flakes, and Zonnatura and Joannusmolen have breakfast cereals with teff flakes as an ingredient in their range.

Where is teff available?

In 2021, teff products are easily available in the Netherlands. Both in health food and health food stores and in the regular supermarket. Teff can also be ordered online from various web shops.

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