April 14, 2015

Teff: The Rise of a Super Grain

The Farmers Market is the most lively place in Guelph on a Saturday morning. As soon as I stepped in the door the crowd carried me past the stands of meats, cheeses, vegetables, and homemade goods to the stand of Laza Catering where there were containers and heated dishes full of Ethiopian and Eritrean stews. Behind it was the woman I knew to be Melku helping customers who approached her stand.

Soon we get settled in behind her stand so I can ask her some questions about the super grain, and key ingredient in her ethnic food, that is quickly gaining popularity: teff. There are more people becoming aware of teff and its high nutritional value.  Melku has noticed that more people at the Farmers Market are recognizing the word teff as they approach her stand, which she attributes to popular health shows like Dr. Oz and popular articles that are spreading on Facebook and other social media sites.  Her stand offers a place for these curious people to learn more about how teff is used, its nutritional value, what it is, and how it looks. She has a spice jar full of the poppy seed sized unground teff seed ready to show anyone who asks.
            In Ethiopia teff flour is usually only used to make the staple food ingera, a flat bread used as an edible serving plate for stews containing meat or lentils. Ingera also serves as a form of utensil for tasty Ethopian dishes like the spicy chicken stew, Dora Wat, which are placed on the Ingera and eaten by hand.  In order to make Injera you need a starter and to let the dough ferment for about 8-10 hours before adding more flour.  A special skillet is then used to cook the Injera.  The flour can also be used in other ways, such as in baked goods, to thicken stews, added to porridge, or the whole grain can be used in bars and porridges.  Melku herself has started using teff flour to bake banana bread that she sells at her stand.

The people who stop by her stand often recognize that teff is high in nutrients and can also act as a gluten free substitute to wheat flour.  When Melku started up her business in Guelph she did not intend to provide food for specialty diets such as gluten free and vegetarian, but that just happened naturally, because thats just what we eat!. With gluten free cuisine becoming increasingly popular, teff and Injera are also becoming increasingly popular.  Even though Injera can be made in part with wheat (Melku makes some of her Injera with 30% wheat flour and 70% teff flour), Injera is traditionally gluten free with 100% teff flour when made in Ethiopia and Eritrea.  There is a taste difference between the two varieties of Injera, the teff is light and more nutritional compared to the heavy wheat.
            Many people who traditionally eat Injera dont realize teffs high nutritional value. Theyve been eating Injera their entire lives because teff is thier staple bread.  It wasnt until recently when the health-obsessed Western cultures discovered teff that it was recognized as a high nutrient super grain.  Teff has high levels of calcium, protein, magnesium, thiamin and folate, phosphorus, copper, manganese, and fibre. The high fibre content is due to the inability to process the fine grain, resulting in the whole grain being consumed. Depending on the soil nutrients of where it is grown, teff can also be high in iron.  The grain is low in saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol.  Teff is also provides a gluten free alternative for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

After my interview with Melku she packaged some Injera, potato and beef stew, green lentil curry, and a salad in a take out box for me to taste, To write about it, you need to try it, and she sent me on my way.  Later, when I opened the box up I ripped off a piece of injera and scooped up some of the stew.  The first thing I noticed about Injera was its spongy texture and its sourdough-like flavour.  It was so delicious that it wasnt until I was halfway through devouring my meal that I even thought to snap a picture. The textures and flavours of the Injera and stews combined made for a meal that will definitely have me coming back for more.
            If you are interested in purchasing or learning how to cook Melkus Ethiopian and Eritrean food, you can find her at the Guelph Farmers Market every Saturday morning or you can visit her at Laza catering 74 Ontario St Guelph ON
Phone: 519-731-2204 & 519-823-8247

Other resources:

For some more information and teff recipes visit https://www.teffco.com/

For an instructional video on how to make Injera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWDNo1HC0mQ

Whole Grains Council. (2013). Teff and millet: November grains of the month. Retrieved from http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/teff-and-millet-november-grains-of-the-month

NutritionValue.org. (2015). Teff, cooked. Retrieved from http://www.nutritionvalue.org/Teff,_cooked_nutritional_value.html

Morgan Sage, URA, ECVOntario-SEDRD, University of Guelph.

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