Danny teases me often that I get crushes on different gluten-free flours. He’s right, of course. I go through swoony phases with raw buckwheat, sweet white sorgum, or brown sweet rice flour. But my enduring love, the one that has been there since the beginning of my gluten-free life, is teff.
Have you ever tried teff? Most of you will have eaten it in Ethiopian restaurants, in the form of injera bread. Injera is the spongy soft flatbread upon which all the delicious lentils or lamb or kitfo dishes sit for the communal meal. Oh, how I love a meal at an Ethiopian restaurant. Teff is the traditional grain of Ethiopia, grown there and Eritrea for thousands of years. It’s full of protein and iron, grows in difficult growing conditions such as intense heat and drought, and only requires 1 pound of seed to grown 1 ton of grain in 12 weeks. It’s a miracle plant, really.
Teff was introduced to the United States by a man named Wayne Carlson, who brought teff seeds and the knowledge of how to grow them back to his native Idaho after spending time as an aid worker in Ethiopia. The Teff Company has been growing teff and ivory teff grains for over 30 years now. We’re happy to work with them as our latest sponsor.
We really think you should know more about teff. And here’s a little secret: the dark teff grain has a faint chocolate-molasses taste. Whenever I bake something with chocolate in it, I use some teff flour. (Teff flour is the secret to the chocolate chip cookies with hazelnuts in our latest cookbook. You want to buy the cookbook just for that recipe.) I guarantee you this: ten years from now, every pastry chef in America will be playing with teff flour for their creations.
You should be playing with it too.
We asked Elisabeth Carlson from The Teff Company to tell us more:
How did The Teff Company begin?
Wayne Carlson started The Teff Company in Idaho nearly 30 years ago with the idea that parts of an ancient and very reliable ecosystem could be reunited. He believed that long surviving cultures are not just groups of people with ideas about sustaining themselves, but extend to an ‘eco-culture’ that also includes their crops, livestock, and land. For thousands of years in Ethiopia an indigenous grass named “teff” has been an important part of local eco-culture, helping to sustain both the human and cattle population, while they in turn helped it to spread and adapt to new regions.
Unfortunately, modern political and social events have caused some of the Ethiopians and Eritreans to become separated from this eco-culture, and end up in far flung places, such as here in America. While these refugees can adapt to their new lives, they often live with a longing for things that remind them of home.
Wayne realized that they would be eager to re-establish their link with teff, and thus their homeland. He hoped that the restored link would allow the rest of us to see the value of this ancient grain and that it could be a nutritious and sustaining addition to our own lives.
What do you wish more people knew about teff?
Teff represents a great treasure brought to us by an ancient culture, members of which now share their lives with us in America. It shows that value can be found in a crop beyond its yield, in grain beyond its caloric content or nutrition, and in a meal beyond its taste.
What’s your favorite part of the work of running your company?
There are many facets to the work done at The Teff Company, each of which is satisfying in itself. The most rewarding part of the business is when these facets come together.
As teff is still a relatively new crop to American agriculture, we are afforded the opportunity to work closely with many farmers, helping them to learn about raising teff, and the useful role it can play in their crop rotations. Farmers returning year after year demonstrate that teff can truly find an important role, even in our world of modern agriculture.
Providing teff to Ethiopian and Eritrean customers, who are always joyful to have found a small part of their lost eco-culture available in their new home, has made everyone at The Teff Company many new friends. It has also taught us a great deal about an interesting and unique culture. Talking to someone who has only just rediscovered this much loved part of their former life will surely never grow old.
Introducing this wonderful grain to the uninitiated American population adds an entirely different perspective to our experience. The interest in teff may be to simply satisfy one’s curiosity about new foods, or to help one reform his/her diet and lifestyle. Whatever the interest, we are given the opportunity to pass on, not only the great benefits that teff can provide, but also introduce people to a whole new culture. All these aspects combine to make for a meaningful and rewarding business that we feel is worth our daily hard work.
Why do you love your work?
Since the founding of The Teff Company we have worked to introduce teff to as many people as possible. To see it helping people improve their health and expand their culinary horizons is truly gratifying.
If you haven’t tried teff yet, we think you’re going to love it. So does The Teff Company.
To introduce people to the wonders of teff, The Teff Company is offering our readers a special giveaway.
Six lucky readers will receive a sample pack of teff products, which includes:
1-pound bag of traditional teff grain
1-pound bag of ivory teff grain
1-pound bag of traditional teff flour
1-pound bag of ivory teff flour
If you would like to be eligible for this giveaway, leave a comment with any experience you have with teff flour. If you have none, tell us why you want to try it! We will choose winners at random by Friday, May 3rd and let you know by email that you have won! (Sorry, but this is limited to US customers only.)