Great Grains: Teff -- The Jury's Still Out

This is the sixth post in the series “Great Grains," highlighting unusual whole grains and easy ways to incorporate them into your diet. Check out posts on barley, bulgur, millet, rye, and corn as well.

As a food blogger, I sometimes feel like I should only write about my kitchen success stories. But let’s be honest. As much as I pretend to know what I’m doing in the kitchen, at least one out of every four dishes I make would earn a C- and Needs Improvement. It’s way easier to leave out my “why on Earth would anyone eat this @*#& !?!?!?” moments and write only about the triumphs that say “Ta-Dah! Would you look at this gourmet creation I threw together with my eyes closed!”


In my plight to make this year all about whole grains, I’ve shared some kitchen success stories. Barley now ranks up with spaghetti and meatballs as one of my favorite comfort foods of all-time. But I’ve also had some not-so-promising run-ins with whole grains this year. Teff was definitely one of those not-so-promising ones.


To date, I’ve tried nearly a dozen recipes with teff and there’s still only one way I really enjoy it (as a substitute for all-purpose flour in baked goods, like in the Gluten-Free Teff Peanut Butter Cookies, recipe below). My husband, on the other hand, was hooked right away by teff’s nutty, molasses-like flavor and now eats it by the bowlful. So, while I am still not satisfied with the teff recipes, he’s approved all of them with a gold-star.


Rather than somewhat falsely blathering on about a kitchen success story and how I came to love all things about teff, I thought I’d share what I’ve tried and leave it up to you to decide. If you’re already a fan of teff, please add your comments and help me with some new ideas on the best recipes to try. If you’re new to the whole grain like I was, you can try a recipe and give a thumbs up or down in the comments section. Maybe my kitchen disappointment will be your next big kitchen success.

Gluten-Free Teff Peanut Butter Cookies: Gluten-Free Teff Peanut Butter CookiesGluten-Free Teff Peanut Butter Cookies


What is teff?

Teff is one of the smallest known grains in the world, about 1/150th the size of a kernel of wheat. It’s thought to have originated in years 4000 – 1000 B.C. and is the primary grain for many African countries, particularly Ethiopia. Most Americans are familiar with teff through injera, an Ethiopian sourdough bread made by fermenting teff flour in water for several days. It has remained popular in developing agriculture economies for its tolerance of poor soils and growing conditions. Teff sprouts in only 36 hours, and just one pound of teff seed can plant an acre of grain; by comparison, it takes more than 100 pounds of seed to plant an acre of wheat.


What’s great about it?  

Although I’m still not sold on the flavor of teff, it’s hard to argue with the nutritional benefits. Because teff is so small, it’s nearly impossible to mill into a non-whole grain form. It can be ground into flour, but all of the outer covering, germ, and starch are included. No need to check the label or wonder if what you’re buying is truly whole grain; with teff you’re always getting the full benefit. Those benefits include a gluten-free grain that is high in protein and fiber; and, unlike other grains, teff is also loaded with calcium.


Teff PorridgeTeff PorridgeWhat do I do with it?

Here’s some ideas to get you started with teff, and as mentioned above, please feel free to share your ideas in the comments section.


·      Injera – Ferment ¼ cup of teff flour and ¾ cup all-purpose flour in 1 cup of water for 2-3 days. Add a pinch of salt and cook the injera in a thin layer on a large cast-iron skillet. Cook until the classic bubbles and holes appear on the dry surface.

·      Teff Crepes with Spinach and Mushrooms – Sauté 1 cup of fresh mushrooms and 3 cups of roughly chopped spinach. Add Parmesan and serve over a warm crepe made from a thin teff pancake.

·      Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies – Mix 1 ½ cups of teff flour with an egg,  1 cup of crunchy peanut butter, oil, and maple syrup for a simple gluten free peanut butter cookie.

·      Teff Polenta – Perfect for anyone with corn sensitivities. Make polenta from whole teff. Add 1 cup of teff to boiling water (2 cups) and milk (1 cup) mixture. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes until teff thickens. Serve with onions, green peppers, and tomatoes for a quick dinner or side.

·      Gluten-Free Pie Crust – Add 1 cup of chilled teff flour to ¼ cup of ice water and 3 tablespoons of oil. Hand press into a 9 inch pie plate, add filling and bake according to recipe or bake 12 minutes for an empty shell.

·      Gravy Thickener – Add teff flour 1-2 tablespoons at a time to any gravy to thicken in lieu of flour or cornstarch.

·      Teff Porridge – Boil 1 cup of whole grain teff in 3 cups of boiling water for 3-10 minutes until mixture is thick, add more water if necessary to reach your desired consistency. Remove from heat and top with walnuts, raisins, honey, or maple syrup.



Amy Sippl is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good, and Tasty. She grew up in rural Wisconsin, but now calls St. Paul her home. She writes about her successes and struggles to eat and grow local food on her blog: Minnesota Locavore. Her last post in the Great Grains series was Barley, the Perfect Food for Health Ninjas.


This recipe for Sticky Teff-Kissed Spice Loaves from Heidi Swanson may make a Teff Lover out of you yet! It is incredible, and it uses teff and whole wheat flour - it's got incredible flavor and texture. I was able to find the recipe here:

Teff is also gluten free. Used 50:50 with other blended gluten free starches such as potato, rice and tapioca it performs well in gluten free recipes and makes a significant contribution to nutritional values which can become eroded in a restricted diet.

Emily - let's be honest. How could anyone not love teff in chocolate cake!!! I did hint above that there was only one way I like teff - and that's in baked goods. Mixed with whole wheat flour it doesn't seem so sour/bitter/spoiled tasting. 


Ian- I have read in many places about teff being the flour of choice for many on GF/CF diets for the high protein value. Thanks for sharing that for the readers!

You'll find that most of the gluten-free grains are rather bland or strange-tasting after having spent years eating wheat flour.  The absolute best thing to do with them is bake, but blend them together.  They are crumbly on their own and sometimes a bit hard to handle flavor-wise, unless you are masking them with other strong flavors (chocolate being the obvious example, but also cinnamon, etc.)I find teff is a wonderful addition to quick breads that are going in a "gingerbread" flavor direction- actual gingerbread, banana or pumpkin bread, molasses cookies, etc.  Those things, along with combining with other flours, also help prevent your baked goods from looking quite so gray.  (Actually, adding a tsp or two of cocoa powder or carob powder can give a more pleasant color, even if you aren't making something that is meant to taste like chocolate- such as the cookies above.)I find that millet is a better substitute for corn- both coloration and with taste, and sweet rice flour is the best for gravy (it only takes a touch and it has a better texture.)  Not that teff can't be used, but it wouldn't be the first g/f flour I would grab.  ;)

These are all great suggestions. I've been exploring teff more with my holiday baking. I think it pairs well with chocolate and I'm looking forward to trying your gingerbread tip! Thanks!

Many people steer clear of whole grains; they’d do well to give them a second look. The average person eats refined grain products like white rice and white flour and avoids whole grains like plague. In the meantime, low carb dieters swear off whole grains in favour of high protein options like poultry and meat under false belief that all grains are evil to the dieter. And most people simply avoid whole grains because they don’t know what to do with them or how to prepare them. There are plenty of highly nutritious and delicious whole grains to choose from, so adding whole grains to your diet needn’t be daunting.

Thanks Food Grains - All of these comments are so true! Since researching whole grains more for this series I've found tons of research on how grains can improve weight loss and overall health and wellness. It's all about finding the recipes!

Does anyone have a good recipe for making cookies from whole teff grain (not flour)?

I just made a delicious teff bread in my bread maker topped with rosemary crumbled almonds and ground roasted flax seeds. I love teff and use it almost exclusively. It takes almost like wheat and making my famous teff pancakes for breakfast makes my boyfriend happy. He loves them! I love how much fiber is in this grain too.

The texture of cooked teff reminds me a lot of cream of rice, grits, or polenta. You can take the polenta recipe above one step further by spreading it in a lightly oiled 13x9 pan, refrigerating 3 to 24 hours, cutting into squares, and then baking or frying. I served mine with Grade B maple syrup for an instant breakfast-for-dinner hit. (I also cooked mine with water rather than milk.)

Hi,I've just recently switched to gluten free eating and I'm struggling to find good recipes. I have tried teff and the peanut butter cookie, it is delicious! 

I just tried Teff. I won't go so far as saying,"I love it". It wasn't bad. The smell is a little off putting. I cooked the grain in water fo about 15 minutes like a porridge. I added cinnamon which really helped the smell. I would definitely try it again. I would add it to other grains to see how a combination tastes. I feel that this would be a great addition to a baked good or a smoothie.

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