Is Teff the New Super Grain?
When Laura Ingalls, an avid runner from Boston, found out after a routine blood test that she was iron-deficient, she turned to the kitchen instead of the medicine cabinet: She started eating teff.
A grain the size of a poppy seed that hails from Ethiopia, teff is naturally high in minerals and protein. Ms. Ingalls started baking with it, cooking with it, and using it to make hot cereal with coconut oil. Now she loves it so much that she doesn’t run a race without it.
“Teff is like a runner’s super food,” she said. “It’s great as a pre-race meal. It’s high in iron and it’s a whole grain so it provides a slow release of energy, which is exactly what I need.”
Teff has long been a dietary staple for Ethiopia’s legendary distance runners, like the Olympic gold medalist and world record holder Haile Gebrselassie, who called teff a secret to the success of Ethiopian runners. But now teff is becoming a go-to grain for a growing number of Americans.
Endurance athletes like the grain because it’s naturally high in minerals. People who can’t tolerate gluten use teff as an alternative to wheat. And dietitians recommend teff as a way for Americans to introduce more whole grains into their diets.
The growing interest in teff is part of an increasing consumer desire for so-called ancient grains like farro, quinoa, spelt, amaranth and millet. Health-conscious consumers have been gravitating to these grains because they’re nutrient dense and have not been genetically modified.
Sales of ancient grains have risen steeply in the United States in recent years — teff sales rose 58 percent in 2014, according to a report last year by Packaged Facts, a market research firm. Teff has been used commercially in everything from pasta to protein bars and pancake mix.
Julie Lanford, a registered dietitian who teaches nutrition classes to cancer survivors in North Carolina, said she often recommends teff because most Americans consume wheat as their only whole grain. Every plant has a unique assortment of nutrients, and by eating different grains, “you get a variety of different nutrients,” she said.
At home, Ms. Lanford substitutes teff when she makes grits and a version of cream of wheat. She also makes teff porridge with dates and honey for breakfast.
“My 5-year-old loves it,” she said.
But as teff finds its way into American kitchens, farmers a world away in East Africa are watching with reservations.
A father and son winnow teff in Tigray, Ethiopia.Credit Getty Images