If you buy something through a link on this page, we may earn a small commission. How this works.

Teff is a traditional grain in Ethiopia and one of the country’s staple foods.  It’s highly nutritious and naturally gluten-free.

It’s also commonly made into a flour for cooking and baking.

As gluten-free alternatives to wheat are growing in popularity, you may want to know more about teff flour, such as its benefits and uses.

This article tells you everything you need to know about teff flour. 

What is teff?

Teff is a tropical grain crop belonging to the grass family, Poaceae. It’s grown primarily in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where it’s thought to have originated thousands of years ago (1, 2).

Resistant to drought, it can grow in a range of environmental conditions and comes in both darker and lighter varieties, the most popular being brown and ivory (1, 2).

It’s also the world’s smallest grain, measuring just 1/100 the size of a wheat kernel.

Teff has an earthy, nutty flavor. Light varieties tend to be slightly sweet as well.

Much of its recent popularity in the West is because it’s gluten-free.

summary

Teff is a tiny grain grown primarily in Ethiopia that has an earthy, sweet taste. It naturally contains no gluten.

How is teff flour used?

Because it’s so small, teff is usually prepared and eaten as a whole grain rather than being split into the germ, bran, and kernel, as is the case with wheat processing (1).

Teff can also be ground and used as a whole grain, gluten-free flour.

In Ethiopia, teff flour is fermented with yeast that lives on the surface of the grain and used to make a traditional sourdough flatbread called injera.

This spongy, soft bread usually serves as the base for Ethiopian meals. It’s made by pouring fermented teff flour batter onto a hot griddle.

Additionally, teff flour makes a great gluten-free alternative to wheat flour for baking bread or manufacturing packaged foods like pasta. What’s more, it commonly serves as a nutritional boost to wheat-containing products (2, 3).

How to add it to your diet

You can use teff flour in place of wheat flour in numerous dishes, such as pancakes, cookies, cakes, muffins, and bread, as well as gluten-free egg noodles (2).

Gluten-free recipes call only for teff flour and other gluten-free options, but if you’re not strictly gluten-free, you can use teff in addition to wheat flour (2).

Keep in mind that teff products, which lack gluten, may not be as chewy as those made from wheat.

summary

Teff can be cooked and eaten as a whole grain or ground into flour and used to make baked goods, breads, pastas, and traditional Ethiopian injera.

Nutrition facts of teff flour

Teff is highly nutritious. Just 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of teff flour provide (4): 

  • Calories: 366
  • Protein: 12.2 grams
  • Fat: 3.7 grams
  • Carbs: 70.7 grams
  • Fiber: 12.2 grams
  • Iron: 37% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Calcium: 11% of the DV

It’s important to note that teff’s nutrient composition appears to vary significantly depending on the variety, growing area, and brand (1, 5).

Still, compared with other grains, teff is a good source of copper, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, and selenium (1, 5).

Additionally, it’s an excellent source of protein, boasting all the essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein in your body (1).

It’s particularly high in lysine, an amino acid that’s often lacking in other grains. Essential for the production of proteins, hormones, enzymes, collagen, and elastin, lysine also supports calcium absorption, energy production, and immune function (1, 6).

However, some of the nutrients in teff flour may be poorly absorbed, as they’re bound to antinutrients like phytic acid. You can reduce the effects of these compounds through lacto-fermentation (1, 7).

To ferment teff flour, mix it with water and leave it at room temperature for a few days. Naturally occurring or added lactic acid bacteria and yeasts then break down the sugars and some of the phytic acid.

summary

Teff flour is a rich source of protein and numerous minerals. Fermentation may reduce some of its antinutrients.

Health benefits of teff flour

Teff flour has several advantages that may make it a great addition to your diet.

Naturally gluten-free

Gluten is a group of proteins in wheat and several other grains that gives dough its elastic texture.

However, some people cannot eat gluten due to an autoimmune condition called celiac disease.

Celiac disease causes your body’s immune system to attack the lining of your small intestine. This can impair nutrient absorption, leading to anemia, weight loss, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, and bloating.

Additionally, some people without celiac disease may find gluten difficult to digest and prefer to avoid it (8).

As teff flour naturally contains no gluten, it’s a perfect gluten-free alternative to wheat flour (9). 

High in dietary fiber

Teff is higher in fiber than many other grains (2).

Teff flour packs up to 12.2 grams of dietary fiber per 3.5 ounces (100 grams). In comparison, wheat and rice flour contain only 2.4 grams, while the same size serving of oat flour has 6.5 grams (1, 10, 11, 12).

Women and men are generally advised to eat 25 and 38 grams of fiber per day, respectively. This can be made up of both insoluble and soluble fibers. While some studies claim that most of teff flour’s fiber is insoluble, others have found a more even mix (1).

Insoluble fiber passes through your gut mostly undigested. It increases stool volume and aids bowel movements (13).

On the other hand, soluble fiber draws water into your gut to softens stools. It also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut and is involved in carb and fat metabolism (13).

A high fiber diet is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, bowel disease, and constipation (1, 14). 

Rich in iron

Teff is said to be extremely high in iron, an essential mineral that carries oxygen throughout your body via red blood cells (15).

In fact, intake of this grain is linked to decreased rates of anemia in pregnant women and may help certain people avoid iron deficiency (16, 17, 18).

Incredibly, some research reports iron values as high as 80 mg in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of teff, or 444% of the DV. However, recent studies show that these astonishing numbers are likely due to contamination with iron-rich soil — not from the grain itself (1).

Additionally, teff’s high phytic acid content means that your body probably doesn’t absorb all of its iron (19).

Nonetheless, even conservative estimates make teff a better source of iron than many other grains. For example, 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of one brand of teff flour provides 37% of the DV for iron — while the same amount of wheat flour offers just 5% (4, 10).

That said, wheat flour in the United States is usually enriched with iron. Check the nutrient label to find out precisely how much iron is in a particular product.

Lower glycemic index than wheat products

The glycemic index (GI) indicates how much a food raises blood sugar. Foods above 70 are considered high, which means they raise blood sugar more quickly, while those below 55 are deemed low. Anything in between is moderate (20, 21).

A low GI diet can be an effective way for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar (22, 23, 24).

Whole, cooked teff has a relatively low GI compared with many grains, with a moderate GI of 57 (25). 

This lower GI is likely due to it being eaten as whole grain. Thus, it has more fiber, which can help prevent blood sugar spikes (1).

However, the GI changes based on how it’s prepared.

For example, the GI of traditional injera ranges from 79–99 and that of teff porridge from 94–137 — making both high GI foods. This is due to water gelatinizing the starch, which makes it quicker to absorb and digest (1).

On the other hand, bread made from teff flour has a GI of 74, which — while still high — is lower than bread made from wheat, quinoa, or buckwheat and similar to that of oat or sorghum bread (1).

Although teff may have a lower GI than most grain products, remember that it’s still moderate to high GI. Anyone with diabetes should still carefully control their portion sizes and keep carb content in mind.

summary

Teff flour is gluten-free, making it ideal for people with celiac disease. It’s also rich in fiber and iron. 

Does teff flour have any downsides?

Given that the production of teff flour is currently limited, it’s more expensive than other gluten-free flours. 

Cheaper gluten-free flours include rice, oat, amaranth, sorghum, corn, millet, and buckwheat flours.

Some restaurants and manufacturers may add wheat flour to teff products like bread or pasta to make them more economical or enhance texture. As such, these products are unsuitable for people on a gluten-free diet (1).

If you have celiac disease, you should ensure that pure teff is used without any gluten-containing products. Always look for a gluten-free certification on any teff products.

summary

Teff flour is relatively expensive compared with other gluten-free flours. Some teff products are mixed with wheat flour, making them inappropriate for anyone who avoids gluten.

The bottom line

Teff is a traditional Ethiopian grain that’s rich in fiber, protein, and minerals. Its flour is quickly becoming a popular gluten-free alternative to wheat flour.

It’s not as widely available as other gluten-free flours and may be more expensive. All the same, it’s a great addition to breads and other baked goods — and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can try your hand at making injera.

Shop for teff flour online.