Do you know which is the smallest cereal species in the world? It is called Teff or often also millet. Behind it is a gluten-free millet, which is traditionally cultivated in Ethiopia and has become more and more of a trendy superfood in Europe in recent years. Calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc: Teff (also: Eragrostis tef) is rich in vital substances, yes. But is it actually healthier than other grains, as many people claim?
What exactly is Teff?
“Teff is a small-grained millet that is grown exclusively in Ethiopia,” says nutrition expert Dr. med. Stefan Kabisch. Thus Teff belongs to the genus of the culture millet. Teff has been traditionally grown in Ethiopia for around 6,000 years. This is one of the oldest cultured grains ever.
Often referred to as miniature millet, this type of millet is considered the smallest cereal in the world – but why? Well, because 150 Teff grains are about the size of wheat grain. By the way: A teff plant produces about 10,000 grains. They are as tiny as poppy seeds. Teff can be white, red, black or brown – the white version is the most popular.
In the country of origin, the millet is used for many different purposes. Whether for the traditional flatbread, the Injera, for millet porridge, animal feed, schnapps or beer (Tella): It is an important staple food that people do not want to and can not do without. “To process Teff flour into classic bread or pasta requires elaborate manufacturing processes and additives,” explains Dr. med. Kabisch on.
Like wheat and rye, Teff is one of the sweet grasses – but it is free of gluten. For people who suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, that can be quite beneficial.
What health benefits does Teff have?
No question: Teff is a vital and nutritious grain . But what are the characteristics of Teff exactly?
The advantages of miniature millet at a glance:
- gluten-free cereal
- low glycemic value (constant blood sugar level)
- rich in essential fatty acids
- rich in lysine and calcium (beneficial for muscles and bones)
- contains all essential amino acids (protein building blocks)
- high mineral content (iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc)
- high protein and vitamin content
- high fiber content
- rich in fiber
- delivers complex carbohydrates
Is Teff really healthier than other grains?
In the media, Teff is celebrated as an underrated superfood. True? Not necessarily, says the expert. “Teff is no healthier than other cereals. It contains just as much protein, but even less fiber than wheat. The mineral content is higher than in most other cereals, yes, but similarly high as in other small-grained cereals (quinoa, amaranth). “The content of vitamin E is significantly lower in all these small-grain cereals than, for example, in wheat, rye or corn.”
Can Teff reduce the symptoms of celiac disease?
“All gluten-free products can reduce the symptoms of celiac disease because only gluten is a problem in celiac disease,” Dr. Kabisch says. This affects between 0.5 and 1 percent of the population. Gluten-free grains include, for example, corn, rice, millet, buckwheat, and amaranth. “Quinoa and Teff are also gluten-free, but should not be used in Europe for environmental and social reasons,” he says.
Teff: pleasure without regard to losses?
Exotic grain instead of domestic grain? Sustainability also plays an important role here. “Due to the lower crop yield compared to other crops and the abundance of alternative gluten-free cereals, Teff should not be specifically used in Europe just to enable a gluten-free diet. Similar unnecessary health trends have led to the health deterioration of the population in some countries who can no longer afford such food.”
Alternative for gluten sensitivity and diabetes?
For gluten-sensitive people, all forms of gluten-free diet are helpful. “Teff is not necessary for this and is no better than other gluten-free products” Dr. Kabisch explains. In addition, diabetics without gluten sensitivity should eat a balanced and varied diet: vegetable-based, meat-reduced, high-fiber, with plenty of healthy vegetables. Gluten plays no role here. “Gluten-free diet in patients without gluten sensitivity is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease,” According to Dr. Kabisch.
Stefan Kabisch, MD, is a researcher at the Department of Clinical Nutrition at the German Institute for Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke.
Michelle Kröger works as a freelance journalist and copywriter in Hamburg and works for various national online and print media.