There were simpler times when rice was as celebrated as every other grain there was, but alas the obsessively health-conscious millennials have risen to remind us that some are just more superior than others. So began the witch hunt for simple carbohydrates and a constant quest for what is now heralded as “super grains”. The latest to make the list is teff, and it not only comes from an unlikely place, but also packs an unbelievable amount of nutrients for its size.
A species of love grass native to Ethiopia, teff is an extremely fine grain that has been called out as the new quinoa in popular culture. Not to the Ethiopians though — the whole grain has been key to making traditional injera (a fermented flatbread) for hundreds of years. No bigger than a poppy seed, the naturally gluten-free grain sees a colour that ranges from dark brown to white (the darker the colour, the earthier the taste), and can either be consumed whole, or ground into a flour.
But more than being a staple food source that has sustained Ethiopian communities for generations, teff has worked its way into the hearts of athletes too. It’s now known as a runner’s superfood — even Olympic gold medalist and world record holder Haile Gebrselassie admits that teff was integral in the success of Ethiopian runners and endurance sportsmen. Now, the grain joins a burgeoning array of ancients grains such as quinoa, spelt, amaranth, and farro to become a carbohydrate worth consuming. Here’s why you should incorporate this mighty little wonder into your diet too.
What teff lacks in size, it makes up with nutrition. Its unusually high levels of manganese, calcium, and iron joins other vital nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and potassium to contribute to brain, heart, kidney and muscle health. As a copper-rich food (0.5mg of copper or 28 percent of daily value per cup), teff speeds up the recovery of muscles, tissues and joints, especially after a workout. While quinoa has more omega-2 and less sugar than teff, the latter boasts higher amounts of vitamin K, calcium, and zinc.
Like quinoa, it also checks the list for all nine essential amino acids, which cannot be made by the body and hence must solely come from food. As the building blocks of protein, these amino acids are crucial for nearly all physiological functions, especially the development of skeletal tissues, cells, organs, and muscles. Of the nine, three are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which not only help regulate blood sugar levels but also build muscle, decrease muscle fatigue and alleviate soreness after intensive workouts.
At 10g of protein and 7g of fibre per cup compared to quinoa’s 8g and 5g respectively, teff emerges superior for muscle building and weight loss — the higher fibre content helps keep you satiated for longer. Compared to brown rice, it has 50 percent more protein, 25 times more calcium, and five times the amount of fibre.
Then there’s thiamine, niacin, cobalamin, and riboflavin — more simply known as vitamin B1, B3, B12, and B2 respectively — each important for healthy bodily functions such as metabolism and cell growth while staving off diseases and boosting brain function.
Interestingly, those looking to get their hands on the raw grain will find it quite a challenge. To keep the manufacturing job strictly in the country from start to finish, the Ethiopian government banned the export of the raw grain, allowing only products such as injera or its flour out of the territory to protect domestic supply in the face of growing international interests. This also prevents its value from spiking and rendering it unaffordable for the locals, which was what happened to the South Americans and their quinoa.
Still, teff is an extremely versatile supergrain, and its flour can be used in anything from porridge to pancakes and cookies — we can’t think of a healthier way to cheat that diet.