If I’m going to be cooking Ethiopian, I need to acquaint myself with a grain that’s not all that popular here in the United States – T’ef.
T’ef is a cereal grain and a species of lovegrass and is quite possibly one of the oldest grains consumed by humans. It is the one food that Ethiopians place firmly into their cultural identity. The most popular use is in injera, the thin, pancake-like bread served at almost every Ethiopian meal. To put it another way: As corn is to Mexico and Central America, T’ef is to Ethiopia.
The grain is labor intensive to harvest, as the seeds often fall to the ground due to the weight about its stalks. Unlike wheat or corn, which can be harvested through efficient industrial means, t’ef requires human labor to pick up the seeds from the ground. It’s likely that this is the reason that T’ef hasn’t been commodified to the extent that corn and wheat have. It’s also one of the reasons that recent governments have tried to push Ethiopian agriculture away from t’ef.
T’ef does have an advantage nutrion-wise, in that its iron content is two to three times that of wheat, and it has many times the concentration of calcium, potassium and other nutrients when compared against wheat, barley, or grain sorghum. T’ef is high in protein and has excellent amino acid composition, something other grains either lack or have less of.