Step aside quinoa: is teff the new ‘superfood’ grain?

By Danielle Colley

Chia seeds, quinoa and coconut everything. These products have taken over our shelves in the quest for a healthy diet. Now there’s a new contender to add to the gluten-free mix: the Ethiopian grain teff.

Teff is the smallest known grain in the world, tinier even than a poppy seed. It’s used most commonly in the flatbread injera, which is eaten across East Africa. But teff can also be added to cakes and muffins, eaten as porridge or used as a polenta replacement.

Hailed by some as the next big “superfood”, just how super is this ancient little seed?

“It definitely ticks a lot of the healthy food boxes; good fat profile, high micronutrient and mineral content and bonus – gluten free,” says nutritionist Dr Michelle Crawford.

Teff is high in iron and calcium and packed full of B vitamins, which makes it great for energy plus it has an estimated 20-30 per cent resistant starch, which is a type of fibre that helps blood sugar management, weight control and maintaining gastrointestinal health.

Available in some health food stores and Coles supermarkets, Teff isn’t the first power-packed product to hit the shops in recent years. So you could be forgiven for asking: how does it measure up to current go-to ingredients quinoa and chia seeds?

“Scientifically it’s not really fair to compare cereals and seeds. Each one has their own benefits and downfalls,” Crawford says. “Teff is a predominantly carbohydrate-based grain and is similar to quinoa in carbohydrate and protein content. It is probably fairest to compare these two.”

Chia and quinoa contain folate whereas teff has none. But teff packs a little something that the others do not.

“Vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin which is required for blood clotting and also bone health,” Crawford says.

“Interestingly, teff is the only one of the three ‘grains’ which contains this. Could teff be the new bone health superfood?”

In its whole, grain form, teff performs similarly to semolina or polenta, quickly becoming a thick gruel, which is perfect for soaking up sauces or eating as a porridge.

Adding raw or toasted seeds to a salad, or tossing a handful in baking is going to reap nutritional benefits, however where teff truly comes into its own is in the form of flour.

Due to its small size the milling process is not believed to remove any of the germ or bran and so all of the nutrients are retained. Unlike some other gluten-free flours that create oddly textured baked goods, it’s quite good to work with.

A 2012 study by the Centre of Food at the Manchester Metropolitan University, found that eating bread made from teff during pregnancy maintains iron stores. Further studies at the Centre suggest it improves iron stores in female athletes too. When the flour is fermented, such as a sourdough process, it increases the amount of iron absorbed into the system.

But dietitian Georgie Rist cautions against applying the “superfood” label.

“Every week there is a new superfood. We forget that we have been eating superfoods for years, but just not calling them that,” she says.

“Variety is the spice of life and it is important to have a number of options to include in a healthy, balanced whole food diet. Teff is simply an addition to our plethora of whole grains, which is exciting.”

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