Forget quinoa, try Teff – Ethiopia’s secret super food is going global

There’s a new ‘super grain’ making waves on the global food market.

Teff is a gluten-free grain indigenous to Ethiopia and its tiny seeds are rich with calcium, iron, protein and amino acids.

Ethiopians have been using teff to make injera since before the state of Ethiopia even existed but outside interest in this ridiculously healthy and versatile grain has up until very recently been negligible.

But a sharp rise in the global demand for health foods and Ethiopia’s ever-growing diaspora in cities as far flung as London, England and Washington, USA has brought teff right into the global spotlight.

Teff production and export companies are springing up to meet the new worldwide demand, predominantly driven by health conscious westerners or westerners with wheat allergies. Hailu Tessema, founder of Mama Fresh, Ethiopia’s first large-scale factory producing teff-based products, told DW that the super grain will be just the first of Ethiopia’s indigenous foods to hit the global market: “For the future this company is planning to distribute Ethiopian traditional food all over the world.”

Hailu’s company flies injera to Sweden three times a week, to Norway twice a week and to Germany three times a month and the African entrepreneur claims that demand is increasing by about 10 per cent each month.

There’s just one problem with teff: there’s not enough of it. Inside teff’s indigenous country agricultural techniques are still primitive, meaning that Ethiopia can barely produce enough teff for itself, never mind a voracious global market driven by foodies and hipsters in New York and Berlin. During the harvesting season farmers in Ethiopia still use oxen to stamp teff seeds out of the grass and pitch forks for winnowing.

As a result, the Ethiopian Ministry of Trade are strategically restricting exports of teff to protect the country’s food supply and ensure that the nation’s staple remains affordable for its people.

“The government has to cover the daily consumption of its own people before it exports outside, which I can appreciate,” Sophie Kebede says. Sophie owns Tobia Teff, a UK-based firm specialising in the Ethiopian grain – but because of the government’s export ban, Sophie actually sources her teff from countries in the southern Mediterranean.

As modern agricultural techniques are adopted in Ethiopia, many expect teff’s yields to begin to boom in the near future, and those involved in the early stages of the super grain’s global emergence are clearly looking to the future with great promise. “I’m very happy,” Hailu Tessema says, “Ethiopia is the founder of teff, so like coffee our teff is becoming important all over the world.”

Image via Sarah Tzinieris / cc

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