Tef a unique cereal indigenous to Ethiopia and famous for its high nutrition content and very small grain size. It is gluten free, high in iron, fiber, protein and calcium content.
Teff in Ethiopia: A Brief History
Ethiopia is the origin of teff, a unique cereal indigenous to the country and famous for its high nutrition content and very small grain size. Teff is a staple crop in Ethiopia’s highlands where it has been grown for thousands of years by millions of farmers. Beyond its status as a staple food, teff also earns farmers a higher price than most other cereals. In recent years, the rest of the world has caught on to the benefits of tef and started calling it the next “superfood” given its numerous nutritional benefits.
While Ethiopians typically use tef to make injera, the spongy, sourdough flatbread that is served with many traditional meals, tef can form the basis of all sorts of products. A range of such products is already emerging on the Ethiopian market, including pancake mix, pasta, breakfast flakes, and protein bars, all made from tef. Tef’s nutritional benefits are enhanced by the fact that it is almost always produced and consumed as whole grain flour
Teff was domesticated between 3,000 and 6,000 years ago, well before wheat, barley, and maize were introduced to Ethiopia. Today, tef is grown by six million smallholder farming households, and is the most widely planted crop by area (three million hectares) in the country. Fourteen species are endemic to Ethiopia, and it is still common to find tef growing wild in many parts of the country. It grows best in moderate temperatures, at altitudes ranging between 1800-2100 meters above sea level. In many countries including Ethiopia, the tef plant is also used as forage for grazing animals. In Ethiopia, tef straw is also mixed with mud to act as a binding agent when building huts.
Due to the limited global familiarity and consumption of tef, in the past, it was considered an orphan crop to which little research was devoted. Nonetheless, tef is resilient, growing under difficult conditions that are often unsuitable to other cereals. Tef comes in a variety of colors ranging from very light to very dark, but the most popular strains of the grain are white, red, and brown. While the lighter varieties command higher prices, darker varieties tend to carry more robust flavors, and come from plants that are hardier, quicker to mature, and easier to grow.
Ethiopian Tef Exports
Given significant productivity improvements in recent years, the Government of Ethiopia is encouraging limited exports of teff, regulated so as not to disrupt domestic supply and prices. Teff for export is grown by licensed commercial farmers and controlled with strong traceability mechanisms. By 2025, the GoE has the goal to export a minimum of 25,000 metric tons of grain and processed teff by a carefully selected and licensed group of commercial farmers.
The scientific name for tef (also spelled “teff” or “t’ef”) is Eragrostis tef, with “Eragrostis” being Greek for “Love grass”. Tef is popularly said to come from the Amharic word tefa, meaning “lost”, because the small seeds are very difficult to find when dropped on the ground! It may also come from the Arabic word tahf, a similar plant eaten in ancient times during periods of food scarcity.
The crop is known as tef in Amharic, tafi or xaafii in Oromifa, and tafa in Tigrigna.
Tef was domesticated between 3,000 and 6,000 years ago, well before wheat, barley, and maize were introduced to Ethiopia. Today, tef is grown by six million smallholder farming households throughout Ethiopia, and is the most widely planted crop by area (three million hectares) in the country. Fourteen species of “Lovegrass” are endemic to Ethiopia, and it is still common to find tef growing wild in many parts of the country.
Teff offers more vitamins, minerals, and protein
than even whole-grain forms of major cereals
Teff outperforms “super foods” like quinoa in
terms of nutritional balance
Injera is a pancake-like sour bread that accompanies many traditional Ethiopian dishes. It forms the plate-like base on which stews, vegetables, and meat dishes are served, and diners tear small pieces from it by hand in which to wrap each bite of food. Its slightly sour taste and spongy texture may surprise unfamiliar palettes, but it makes a worthy accompaniment to the rich and spicy dishes of the Ethiopian highlands. More creative cooks and diners can also choose to pair injera with sauces, soups, and stews that are typically eaten in other parts of the world.
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The Agricultural Transformation Agency is an initiative of the Federal Government of Ethiopia Off Meskal Flower Road, across from Commercial Graduates Association