Could Teff be the New Quinoa?

Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Loraine Hudson, of Mintec.

Celebrity diet fads may not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying once a celebrity starts eating a food that is mostly unknown, it gains attention. Last year we wrote about quinoa and how the prices rose in South America once a taste for the grain developed in the U.S. Now there’s a new kid on the block — an ancient Ethiopian grain called teff.

Teff is a tiny grain about the size of a poppy seed that can be used much like wheat to make bread, cakes, biscuits and more. It is naturally gluten-free and higher in protein than quinoa, with less than half of the fat. The nutritional properties of teff might be what caught the attention of the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham, but its gluten-free properties in particular are likely to propel it to superstardom.

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Teff is thought to have been grown in Ethiopia and Eritrea since 4000 B.C. and is important culturally. Injera, a flatbread made from teff, is an essential part of the Ethiopian diet, eaten as a cheap and filling accompaniment to the mainly vegetarian diet. After seeing how the popularity of quinoa resulted in unaffordability issues for locals in Peru and Bolivia, Ethiopia is keen to avoid the same with teff and has put a lot of effort into maintaining the domestic supply before accepting the rewards of international demand.

In 2006, the government of Ethiopia banned exports of raw teff and teff flour in order to protect the domestic market and to allay fears of a food scare. Since then investments in mechanization on some farms have increased yields, allowing optimism that teff can now be grown for exports.
Consequently, the ban on teff flour exports was lifted in 2015, with a projection of 0.18 million quintal, or 18,000 tonnes, of exports in the first year. (A quintal is a unit of weight equivalent to 100 kg.)

Production of teff for milling then exporting has been limited to 48 commercial farms on 6,000 hectares. These farms can grow teff with higher than average yields and therefore not affect domestic production. It is intended to gradually extend it to more of the 6.5 million teff farms in Ethiopia as yields increase country-wide. In 2013–2014 Ethiopian teff production grew by 17% year-on-year to 44.2 million quintal thanks to a 0.2 per quintal increase in yields per hectare.

Ethiopia’s concern over domestic price rises is not unfounded, as the price of teff has risen by nearly 20% since the start of 2015 thanks to higher demand. A recent report suggests that the global gluten-free market will more than double to nearly $5 billion in 2021, with the E.U. and the U.S. the largest markets. As a naturally gluten-free grain, teff’s use in this growing market is almost guaranteed and so demand is likely to only increase further.

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