Think about how many food options are out there now – foods from other countries that you can just pick off the shelf. As food importing has taken off, and international flavors have become more popular, it’s an exciting time for food lovers, as our pantries, and palates have expanded.
And it’s an especially exciting time for vegans.
Of course, this goes beyond just substitutes for animal products. Shoppers can also enjoy the benefits of foods from cultures with plant-based diets. Most think of Indian food, but Ethiopian cuisine is surprising when it comes to plant-based foods.
Though many Ethiopians aren’t vegan, there’s quite a bit of vegan and vegetarian fasting happening throughout the year for religious reasons.1,2 And among the many meat-free options, there’s teff – a delicious grain that’s a mainstay of Ethiopian cuisine.
Teff grain is a traditional ingredient for the flatbread called injera. While injera is a staple of Ethiopian meals, teff can be put to use in many other ways. Read on to learn why you may want to pick some up next time you’re at the store.
What Is Teff Grain?
Teff grains are about the size of a poppy seed and are generally grown in Ethiopia and East Africa. Before the grain craze took hold, teff was a staple for the country’s long-distance runners.
In fact, Olympic gold medalist and world record holder Haile Gebrselassie once called it a “hidden secret for the success of Ethiopian runners”.3
Now, more than 90% of teff is grown in Ethiopia in about 6.5 million households. Chances are, however, if you’re buying teff, you’re not getting it from the best source.
You see, the Ethiopian government forbade farmers from exporting teff to keep things affordable for a long time. Today, the ban has been partially lifted. But most teff available in the United States is grown places like Idaho, the Netherlands, Australia, and India. The bulk of teff is sold as whole grain, but teff flour is also available.
Turns out, some companies are trying to get creative with teff. From pancake mixes to tortilla chips, teff is finding new life as a grain replacement. In addition, some people are trying to make their own injera. But why go through all the trouble?
Why Try Teff Grains?
Teff sales have risen 58% as of 2014, and this is no accident.4 Its nutrient content shows many ways it can support facets of health and a few new studies show teff’s got promise.
1. Teff is Nutrient Rich
First of all, teff is packed with essential nutrients. One cup of cooked teff has the following nutrients –
- 255 calories
- Only 1.6 grams fat
- 7 grams dietary fiber
- 10 grams protein
- 126 milligrams magnesium
- 123 milligrams calcium
- 269 milligrams potassium5
And another thing worth noting is that teff has massive amounts of calcium. 123 mg is roughly the equivalent of a half-cup of cooked spinach – one of the best vegan sources of calcium.6 And the protein content in teff is not to be ignored either as the amino acids present there combine forces to help the cells in your body grow and heal.
2. Teff May Help You Lose Weight
Now, dietary fiber is generally associated with digestive health. However, it also plays an important role in satiety – aka the feeling of being full. Dieters can tell you what a struggle it is to try and cut down your portions when you’re still hungry. Teff to the rescue – it may be able to help here. Studies have shown that making the simple change of adding more dietary fiber to your diet can help you lose weight.7 Of course, this tactic may not work on its own, but every bit of effort helps.
3. Teff Supports Bone Health
Remember that massive dose of calcium listed above? Well, calcium plays a major role in the body, but most people associate it with strong bones. Combined with Vitamin D and strength training, calcium can help keep your bones healthy as you age.8 But since vegans don’t have access to milk – the primary source of calcium for many, teff can become a great asset for those trying to keep their calcium levels up.
4. Teff Is Gluten-Free
Being gluten-free makes teff a great fit for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Interestingly, one study on people with celiac disease found that those who regularly ate teff reported a significant reduction in symptoms.9
5. Teff Is Versatile
Traditionally, injera is the main use for teff. However, more and more people are finding different uses for the versatile grain. Teff flour can be used to make bread, crepes, and even waffles. And teff grains make a great addition to porridge or oatmeal. It’s also a component of many gluten-free pancakes, snacks, and cereals.
6. Teff Gives Athletes A Boost
Teff was first brought to international attention by athletes. One study on female runners showed that the runners with low iron levels improved when regularly eating teff bread. Iron deficiencies are common among female runners and endurance athletes, so anyone looking to up their iron intake could look to teff for help.10
And teff’s protein content and amino acid density come into play during athletic pursuits. Exercise forces your body to break down muscle, then repair itself. Amino acids from proteins are an essential part of that process.11
Teff In Review
In the end, teff’s relative scarcity means it may not have the profile of grains like quinoa or millet. But, teff offers you so many of the essential nutritional compounds vegans need. And you can work it into so many different kinds of meals.
On top of this, the fact that it’s gluten-free makes it even more accessible for people with dietary restrictions. So, when you are reaching for a grain to eat or flour to cook with, think about teff. This Ethiopian favorite is a healthy treat on any table.