Ethiopia's teff crop has been grown and consumed in the east African nation for centuries - popularly used as the four to make the Ethiopian national food Injera. Now, it is presenting a healthy gluten-free grain option not just in Ethiopia but in the West, garnering support from celebrity heavyweights like Victoria Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow as a new diet fad.
BISHOFTU, ETHIOPIA (REUTERS) - At the Debre-Zeit Agricultural Research Centre in Bishoftu, 47 kilometres away fomEthiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, a new crop of teff is being grown under greenhouse conditions that the scientists here can study.
The crop which looks like wheat and has a sour taste, is gluten-free. In recent years teff been hailed as a 'super-food' and is now part of a new diet fad amongst celebrities like Victoria Beckham andGwyneth Paltrow.
Research shows it can boost the body's vitality and reduce fat production. Grown by over six million farmers in Ethiopia, teff is rich in minerals and nutrients.
"Teff has many nutritional values. It has many nutrients like minerals, calcium magnesium, iron and the likes. It has also good content of mineral and ash. It has also protein content," said Dr. Solomon Chaniyalew a Research Scientist who breed Teff at the Agricultural Centre.
Dr. Chaniyalew says the Ethiopian government should patent teff particularly because of its growing popularity in the West.
In the past, developing countries like Ethiopia, have suffered "biopiracy," a term used to describe cases where foreign companies have been accused of plundering plants or animals from poorer parts of the world.
The government has placed a ban on exports to try and protect the local market.
"Our farmers have been cultivating teff for centuries; for three thousand years. They are the ones who domesticated it and kept with them. So they have to benefit for their good job and the country has to also benefit from teff. So, in the future I think the government is trying to get some kind of patent on the crop itself."
Once harvested teff is ground into flour and sold by traders like Bedru Shukra who also runs a mill. Shukra is, however, concerned that increased demand for teff from abroad could hike production costs, making it more expensive for local businessmen and consumers.
For now though Ethiopian teff producers remain locked out of the global market because of the ban.
"Majority of Ethiopians eat teff. The demand for teff is rising here in Ethiopia itself. So, if there is extra demand from outside on top of its current local demand, I think the market will be out of control. Majority of the consumers and local dealers will not be able to afford increased prices. They may not be able to afford to eat even once a day," said Shukra.
Teff flour is used to make injera, a spongy, fermented bread or pancake. The process of making of injera has been passed down from generation to generation. Askale Mariam Tekle bakes and sells injera for a living.
"To make injera, first the dough has to be fermented with yeast and teff flour. To make sure it is properly fermented and has a right amount of yeast, you bake one injera as a tester. So, if you notice there is less yeast you add a little more, otherwise you can continue baking the injera," explained Tekle.
Injera is often topped with vegetables or meat dishes served with goat cheese. The meal is often shared among three or four people with families sometimes eating injera two or three times a day.