It is hard to resist a plate of injera. But did you know that this Ethiopian delicacy is made from the flour of a grain named teff?
With the botanical name “Eragrostis tef”, this species is native to Ethiopia and Eritrea, where it was domesticated between 4000-1000 BC, making it one of the earliest cultivated plants.
The name “tef” is believed to derive from the Amharic word for “lost” because at less than 1mm, its seeds are extremely tiny. This tiny size was ideal for the nomadic lifestyle of groups in the area, because they could sow an entire field with just a handful of teff seeds. Teff is also a very resilient crop: not only is it resistant to many diseases that plague other grains, teff can grow in dry as well as waterlogged soils. Lastly, because it cooks so quickly, teff requires very little energy to prepare.
Aside from being convenient to cultivate, teff is very nutritious. Similar to millet and quinoa, it is gluten-free, high in dietary fibre, and so rich in protein that it has been estimated that 2/3rds of Ethiopians get their protein from it. Teff also has the highest calcium content of any grain, and is rich in iron from the soil it was cultivated in. Usually ground into flour, teff is used to make foods like the well-known injera, as well as other porridges and alcoholic beverages.
By Nnenna Onuoha