Date: Wednesday, 30 March 2022
Teff, an ancient grain native to the Horn of Africa, has found new enthusiasts in the United States. It’s being cultivated in the American West and Midwest, where growers note its increasing appeal as a gluten-free “super food.”
One of those farmers is Tesfa Drar, who grew up helping his parents raise teff in what is now Eritrea.
When he came to the United States for college in 1981, he missed injera, the spongy, teff-based flatbread that is a staple of the Horn of Africa diet.
“So, I decided to bring 20 pounds [of teff] from home and I planted it at the University of Minnesota, where I was studying,” Tesfa recalled, standing in a field of grain in northern Nevada state. “From there, I gave it to different colleges and universities for research.”
Now his Selam Foods markets the iron-rich grain online, with a website sharing recipes for injera and the history of teff, one of the oldest domesticated plants.
Down the road from Tesfa’s place, at Desert Oasis Teff and Grain in Fallon, John Getto and his son Myles say they are growing “ancient grains for modern tastes.” They sell teff by the truckload to wholesale customers in California and in one-pound bags to consumers locally or online.
“Nevada has the perfect climate for teff, which is the nice part,” Myles Getto said. “It is hot. Very, very hot. Very little rainfall, but we do irrigate our teff. It’s just a good climate to grow teff in.”
Most teff produced in the United States goes to forage, according to the University of Nevada-Reno. The grain’s versatility adds value for Nevada farmers, Cushman said: “Teff not only provides a high-quality forage for livestock production, but it gives us this very highly nutritious, mineral-rich and gluten-free grain as an added benefit for human consumption.”
CSS Farms added teff to its rotation of potatoes, alfalfa and wheat. General manager Kyle Noise said the company will plant more next season, recognizing the grain’s popularity with many sub-Saharan African immigrants, a fast-growing part of the U.S. population.
“I can see that there is a good need for it going forward, especially with its being gluten free,” he added. “There are a lot of uses for it.”
Watching the market for teff expand from the East African diaspora to health-conscious consumers, Tesfa Drar said the high-fiber “super food” has global appeal.
“Teff can be used for making cookies, for making pancakes, porridge, and you can make it for pizza,” Tesfa said. “… Now we are working with Pizza Hut to provide them gluten-free teff so they can make it for pizza.”
Trésor M. Matondo contributed to this report.