It’s small. It's round. It’s brown, and it’s an ancient grain favored by many as a high-protein, gluten-free alternative. What is it? Anybody? “Quinoa of course!” shouts the collective vegan-celiac community. Excellent guess, but try again. It’s Teff (Eragrostis tef), an African lovegrass prominently featured in West African cuisine that is poised to stage a coup on one of Silicon Valley’s favorite wheat substitutes.
With a long laundry list of nutritional and economic benefits similar to Quinoa, Teff is a “new” superfood originally cultivated around 1000 BCE in the Ethiopian Highlands that is a strategic addition to any diet, gluten-free or otherwise.
According to a 2010 study conducted by the Department of Pharmacognosy at Cairo University, the health benefits of Teff are numerous : it contains nutritionally significant proportions of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, aluminum, iron, copper, zinc, boron, barium, and thiamin.
More importantly however, Teff is over 20% protein and has a remarkably comprehensive amino acid composition, making it a fantastic supplement to any vegan meal plan. It even has a low glycemic index with less sodium and saturated fat than most starches.
And now the million dollar question: how exactly does one prepare this little-known seed? The answer: pretty much any way you like. Teff can be baked, boiled, steamed, eaten raw, or used to make a wide range of starch products such as pancakes, pie crust, polenta, cake, and most importantly, the native Ethiopian bread Injera.
Teff is used to make the porous pancake-esque bread which doubles as an eating utensil in the culture's traditional family style eating and can be purchased pre-made if you're not keen on baking it from scratch. If you haven’t tried native Ethiopian cuisine, now is the time to try!
As the continued search for innovative, high-protein vegan solutions leads us to new dietary possibilities, one thing is for certain: ancient grains such as Teff, Quinoa, and Fonio will be at the forefront. Because they require far less agricultural energy to cultivate and have massive nutritional benefits that dwarf those of wheat, ancient grains like Teff could (and should, one could argue) be easily integrated into our daily meal plans to benefit both our economy and our bodies.