What Is Teff and How Do You Cook It?

By Ashley Ess in Healthy Feeling

When it comes to gluten-free grains, it isn't always easy finding alternatives to wheat, especially in baked goods or side dishes. Many of the same grains tend to be used again and again. Rice and corn may be versatile, but why be chained down when there are other wonderful gluten-free grain alternatives out there, such as teff? The question is, how can you incorporate this gluten-free supergrain into your diet—and, more importantly, what is teff?

All about Teff

Teff is considered an ancient grain, much like farro, millet, and quinoa. According to the Oldways Whole Grains Council, teff has a long history as a staple for traditional fermented injera bread making in Ethiopia, and it's now emerging in the United States as well. The grain's global popularity has led institutions like the International Food Policy Research Institute to investigate the economic and social implications of increased teff production. The crop supports up to 43 percent of Ethiopian farmers, but it's important to ensure they have adequate equipment and working conditions.

Why is teff all the rage? It's hailed by the gluten-free community as a superior alternative ingredient to whole wheat in foods such as bread, tortillas, pancakes, and muffins. As an ancient grain, teff has a lot going for it: packed with a hefty dose of nutrients, it's a natural choice for those sensitive to gluten or who have celiac disease and want an extra punch of protein and energy. As a superfood, one cooked cup of teff can provide five milligrams of iron, as the Oldways Whole Grains Council notes. Plus, it contains more vitamin C than almost any other grain, according to the New York Times, and is credited as the secret to the success of Olympic Ethiopian runners due to its slow release of energy and its high iron content.

Teff grass

How to Cook Teff

Teff can be prepared in a variety of ways. Often, teff is used as an addition to gluten-free all-purpose or buckwheat flours in baking to lend texture and flavor to pancakes, muffins, or other baked goods. When cooking or baking, Food & Wine suggests to simply reduce your regular flour by 10 or 20 percent and replace it with an equal weight of teff.

Teff is available as flour for baking or as a whole grain. In its whole grain form, it can have a gritty texture. It's useful in recipes that require chunky ingredients such as nuts or oats, or it's especially tasty in recipes requiring chocolate. In its flour form, teff can take on a smoother texture, giving foods such as gluten-free tortillas a whole new life beyond their stiff, rice counterparts. Its heartiness and slightly nutty flavor make it a great grain to cook as porridge, and its texture is reminiscent of polenta.

Teff injera bread in basket on table

Try Teff Porridge

Give gluten-free supergrain teff porridge a try by adding 1 cup of whole grain teff to 4 cups of boiling water. Cover, and let the teff simmer until the water is absorbed (approximately 20 minutes or so), stirring occasionally. Divide the cooked teff porridge into four bowls and add toppings of your choice. Dairy-free milk, maple syrup, fruit, nuts, and seeds are all delicious additions to a bowl of teff porridge. If you prefer a more savory porridge, simply replace the water with vegetable broth, season with salt, pepper, or your favorite spices, and top your teff with vegetables, such as sauteed asparagus, kale, or mushrooms.

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Why It's Good

Versatile and nutrient-rich teff is a wonderful addition to a gluten-free diet. This ancient supergrain is full of protein, iron, and vitamins, and it has a texture and hearty flavor that can easily replace typical flours and grains in your kitchen.