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Plenty to gain from tiny grain

By Sarah Britton , 28-Aug-2007

Plenty to gain from tiny grain

Ancient Ethiopian grain teff - a type of grass - offers an impressive nutritional profile and is making its way over to the UK. But manufacturers will need convincing that its advantages justify its additional costs before they start using it in large quanities.

Teff provides more fibre and is more nutritious in germ than any other grain. It also packs a high mineral content and boasts 17 times the calcium of whole wheat or barley. It is available as both grain and ground flour and can be used to make porridge, as well as added to baked goods as a wheat flour substitute.

Eva-Maria Blixt, product developer for Bells of Lazonby brand The Village Bakery is full of praise for teff. The company makes a range of free-from products, so teff's gluten-free credentials sparked interest. "Usually, when you taste corn starch or rice flour it's very bland, but this baked very well and had a great flavour and nutritional profile," she says. Because teff is a very small grain, she adds, it is more likely to avoid cross-contamination with wheat as the two are easily distinguishable. The only problem is that the firm needs a bulk ingredient and teff is just too expensive, she regrets.

But London-based teff supplier Tobia-Teff believes that the pros outweigh the cons. It is a very versatile grain, explains joint owner Sophie Sirak-Kebede. "As well as being suitable for celiacs, it could also be used in products for athletes and pregnant women as it has a high iron content. At the moment we are selling to individual consumers and health food shops, but food businesses have asked for samples and demand is growing," she says. "Everyone is just testing the water right now."