Not many pests or diseases attack it; insects don’t even seem to bother it in storage. The plant is very competitive, stifling out weeds around it.
The seeds are very small, about 1/32 of an inch (.8 mm) wide. 150 teff seeds equal the weight of 1 kernel of wheat. Most of the grain is bran and germ.
There are three main varieties: dark brown (called “sergegna”), red (called “geyy”), and a creamy-ivory white variety called “nech.”
The red is the least expensive and least popular. The white teff grains have a blander taste, but are more expensive. The dark ones come from hardier plants and have a more pronounced flavour. Traditionally, the upper class ate the lighter-coloured varieties, the lower classes the darker ones.
Teff has more of a nutty flavour than many other grains and seeds which are said to have nutty taste. The nuttiness of the white grains is more like chestnut; that of the dark ones is more like hazelnut.
Cultivars include Alba, Ada, Beten, Bunign, Dabi, Enatit , GeaLamie, and ShewaGimira. Some cultivars are ready to harvest 45 days after seeding, others need 120 to 160 days. When ready to harvest, the weight of the seed head can bend the stalk to the ground.
The seed can be cooked whole to serve as a side starch as one would rice, or added to dishes. When added to soups or stews, add either uncooked ones 30 minutes before the end of cooking, or add cooked ones 10 minutes before the end of cooking. The seed is gelatinous when cooked and will act as a thickener. The whole seeds are also used in making alcoholic drinks called “tela” and “katikala.”
When ground into flour, the flour is used to make injera bread, and a gruel or porridge called “muk.”
The grain has a yeast (“Candida guilliermondii”) on it that grows symbiotically with the plant and its seeds, so no yeast is needed in making bread from the flour.
The straw is very nutritious for livestock.
To cook the grain:
1 part teff, 4 parts water, dash of salt (if desired).
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until all water is absorbed. Remove from heat, then stand covered for a further 5 minutes.
For Teff flour, substitute equal parts wheat flour and rye flour (though this won’t be gluten free). For seeds, substitute millet, couscous, or quinoa.
13% to 15% protein, with an overall range of 8 to 15%.
Fat content: 2.5%
Per 100g: 350 to 370 calories
Gluten-free or very low in gluten (research is new, and conclusions differ)
High in calcium, iron
Store cooked grain in the fridge for up to a few days.
Store dry, uncooked grain in a sealed container in a dark, cool place.
“Teff” may come from the Arabic word “teffa”, meaning “lost”, perhaps referring to how hard it would be to find the teeny grains if dropped.