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5 Reasons Teff Should Be Your New Favorite Whole Grain

January 17, 2014

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As the tiniest grain in the world, teff is easy to miss—in fact, the name comes from the Amharic word for “lost,” since its 1-mm diameter means it’s prone to disappearing. But with a nutritional oomph far greater than its tiny size, teff is definitely worth finding!

It’s actually been a dietary staple in African countries as far back as 4000 B.C., but teff is just now gaining popularity in western countries as a healthy, gluten-free grain alternative.  From fighting disease to fortifying bones, teff certainly has what it takes to be the next ultimate superfood—so super that many of the famed Ethiopian long-distance runners attribute their physical abilities to the grain! And lucky for your taste buds, it’s also pretty darn delicious.

The amazing health benefits of teff

1. Helps bone health. Teff outshines all other grains when it comes to calcium content, providing vegans and lactose-intolerant folk with an excellent non-dairy source of the mineral. One cup of cooked teff has 123 mg ofcalcium, the same amount as in ½ cup of cooked spinach. Beyond fortifying bones and fending off osteoporosis, calcium also soothes symptoms of PMS and is associated with the prevention of breast and ovarian cancer.

2. Improves immunity. Unique among grains, teff is an excellent source of vitamin C. In addition to fighting illness and shortening the duration of colds, vitamin C also helps wounds heal faster, facilitates collagen synthesis, and protects against cataracts, while its antioxidant properties help prevent heart disease and lower cholesterol levels.

3. Supports digestion and weight control. High in “resistant starch,” a recently-discovered dietary fiber that isn’t digested by the body, teff helps with blood sugar management, weight control, and colon health, and can alleviate digestive conditions like IBS. Gluten-free grains rarely boast significant fiber content, so with a composition of 20-40% resistant starch, teff is a serious star.

4. Soothes stress. One cup of uncooked teff contains 50% of the recommended daily value of thiamine, which helps nervous and cardiovascular function, bolsters muscle tone, and supports the health of the skin, hair, eyes, and mouth. It’s also been dubbed nature’s “anti-stress vitamin” because it improves the body’s ability to withstand stressful situations!

5. Protein-rich. When it comes to protein content, teff blows whole wheat flour out of the water. Plus, the protein is the easily digestible kind, much like the version found in egg whites. In fact, it’s estimated that many Ethiopians get 2/3 of their daily protein from the grain!

How to eat teff

If you’ve ever eaten at an Ethiopian restaurant, then you’ve tried teff—it’s the base for injera, the spongy flatbread used as an edible serving dish for Ethiopian food. But don’t be fooled by injera’s sour flavor, which is due to fermentation: teff actually has a mild, sweet taste, and comes in a vast range of tasty forms.

Teff seeds vary in color from ivory to dark reddish brown, and each shade has a unique flavor, with white teff being the mildest, and dark teff offering a nuttier, earthier taste. Whichever shade you choose, you can make all sorts of goodies with teff, from pancakes to breads to hot cereal to crepes to soups.

Though the ratios vary slightly depending on who you ask, cooking teff is just as straightforward as most grains. Just combine teff and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and then simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes.

Once you’ve covered the basics and are ready to explore teff’s possibilities, try some sweet teff pancakes for breakfast, moist soaked teff and millet bread with your lunch, and some tomato and mushroom teff polenta at dinnertime! If you’re still hungry, indulge in teff porridge with pecans, dates, and apples for dessert.

Have you tried teff? What delicious ways have you found to use it?