By Bernadine Racoma
It has not been long since quinoa has been hailed as a super food and now teff, also an ancient grain that is a staple among Ethiopians, is being called the next super grain to rival quinoa. The miniscule grains are gluten-free and rich in amino acids, protein, iron and calcium. It can substitute as an ingredient for food items made with wheat flour. For centuries teff has been cultivated in Ethiopia regularly, with about 20% of all cultivated land in the African country planted with it. It is ground into flour and used for making “injera,” a flat spongy bread that is Ethiopia’s national dish.
Although teff has existed for ages and is a staple in Ethiopia and Eritrea, the grain remained unnoticed by the western world. It was only when the demand for healthier food, traditional crops and gluten-free products became widespread that teff got noticed by the health-food communities. Even Ethiopians that have regularly eaten teff were surprised at the grain’s high nutritional value.
With the gaining popularity of teff, the Ethiopian government is actively promoting the agricultural produce, with teff billboards at the Addis Ababa airport greeting visitors. The main selling point: it is gluten-free. With the growing global demand for gluten-free food, teff could be the main answer.
Unlike quinoa which is coated with saponin, a toxic substance that must be carefully washed off before the seeds could be safely eaten, teff is safe. Quinoa brought riches to the Andean farmers in Bolivia and Peru. But today, the normally cheap and readily available quinoa is getting too expensive for the traditional buyers in Peru and Bolivia to afford. There is still widespread malnutrition in these countries and rows over farmland are becoming common, and entire production of quinoa are getting sold to western countries to meet the upsurge in demand.
As it is, the western market and the developing middle class of Ethiopia are increasing the demand for the highly nutritious grain, which pushes domestic prices upwards. Farmers are cashing in on the demand, selling to the consumers outside their communities. The higher grades of white and magna teff are preferred by the rich in Ethiopia while the red and mixed teff that are of lower value are left for the lower income families. The government is planning to double the production of teff by next year, which will make the grain more out of reach of the poor in Ethiopia.
A solution to malnutrition in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is called an African tiger, because of its fast growing economy, yet it is also one of the less developed countries in the world according to the Untied Nations. About 20% of children under five years old remain malnourished. Perhaps teff and a portion of the income generated from its sales can be used to solve the malnutrition problem in the country.