Superfoods for Health - tiny but mighty teff

Triva Question: What is highly nutritious, yet tiny enough that a whole crop full of seeds can fit into a single hand? Answer: Teff.

What is Teff? If you are asking yourself this question you are not alone. This ancient grain, which is still a staple in Ethiopia, is not well known in North America; yet its super nutritional profile should be enough to put this tiny gluten free grain in the spotlight!

Teff, which is the smallest grain in the world, is appropriately named. It is derived from the Amharic word teffa, which means “lost”, due to how easily this tiny grain can be lost if dropped. In fact, it would take 150 Teff grains to weigh as much as one grain of wheat! Originating in Ethiopia between 4000 and 1000 BC it is still grown as one of the primary cereal crops. It is ground into flour, eaten as porridge, and used as an ingredient in home-brewed alcoholic drinks. (1)

Due to the tiny size of teff grains, the bulk of the grain consists of bran and germ, making it very nutritionally dense (1). Teff has a very high content of calcium, phosphorous, iron, copper, aluminum, barium and thiamin, carbohydrates, and fiber (2). With a high amino acid content, including all 8 essential amino acids, it has higher lysine levels than either wheat or barley. The great amino acid profile also means this tiny wonder is packed with a high quality protein (similar to milk or meat) and it’s gluten free! (3)

Teff is one of those ancient grains, like quinoa and amaranth, that had been “lost,” but has recently been rediscovered by North Americans. Teff has a mild nutty flavor. It can be eaten whole and either steamed, boiled, or baked; however it is most commonly ground into flour, as it is in Ethiopia to make a type of flatbread called injera.(4) In North America it can be found mostly in health food stores, and is used to make delicious gluten free bread sold at many alternative bakeries. Demand for nutritional gluten free alternatives have started to make this grain more readily available in North America, but it is still not commonly grown here. There are currently no listed crops in Canada, with the only U.S. cultivation being done by private investigators (2). However, it is considered a reliable, low risk, crop adaptable to environments ranging from drought stress to water logged soils.  This quick germinating, versatile, crop would be well suited for the range of climates across North America. 

Highly nutritious, and adaptable to growth in a wide variety of climates, teff proves true, the adage that good things really do come in small packages.


  1. “Whole Grains: Teff”. Chet Days Health and Beyond Online.
  2. “Teff”. Government of Alberta: Agriculture and Rural Development.$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/crop772 (21/03/2012).
  3. “What is Teff Grain”. (21/03/2012).
  4. “What is Teff?”. Wise Geek. (20/03/2012).

Katan Kitchens is as much a personal passion, as a professional venture for Jamie. Having suffered through a ‘health crisis’ in 2007, he has spent the past several years using his research and chemistry/environmental science education towards understanding the role of diet in health; with a focus on SuperFoods for individuals with allergies, intolerances and indigestion. Follow Jamie on Twitter @Katankitchens, or on his blog at

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- Jamie Draves, founder of Katan Kitchens