An Image Of Africa? Ethiopia’s Infinite Horizons Of T’eff

by John Downey

T’eff is a cereal grain that originated in Ethiopia between 4000-1000 BC.  Only in the recent 20th Century has the North Africa grain staple become known and used in other parts of the world, including the U.S. Midwest and Australia.  Interestingly, I found the Amharic word T’eff means “lost” because of the minuscule grain size. The grain is so small that the seeds sowed from this field would barely fill a small pickup truck. This may also infer T’eff is difficult to harvest compared to larger grains and therefore incurs higher production expense.  Imported T’eff to the U.S. is costly and is often mixed with white flour in some Ethiopian restaurants.

Used in the production of injera (phonetically, eenjerah), a ubiquitous Ethiopian staple, T’eff imparts an earthy, nutty flavor and is rich in amino acids, protein, calcium and iron.  It can be found in western health food stores and is especially favored by those with allergic reactions (celiac disease) to gluten, of which T’eff contains very little.  Injera is a spongy fermented bread that is usually served with varying spiced sauces, including meats and vegetables and is eaten by hand.

The word T’eff is pronounced by glottalizing the “T” by tightening and releasing the space between vocal cords, or for lack of a better description, “spitting out the T.”

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