If you’ve ever had the pleasure of eating Ethiopian/Eritrean food, then chances are you’ve tried Teff. Teff is a grain native to Ethiopia that is the core ingredient in injera. It’s delicious, healthy and gluten free. Berhan Grains, a new family owned business is helping show the world how amazing Teff from the motherland is. The entrepreneur couple, Ermeyes & Betlehim have a special connection to Teff. They both have roots in Ethiopia and both come from generations of Teff farmers. This is why they are committed to bringing the highest quality Teff grains from its original source -Africa. We visited their Teff mill and learned more about their journey. Check out the interview below:
What is Teff?
Teff is the smallest grain in the world but don’t let its size fool you, Teff is a nutritional titan as an ancient gluten-free super grain rich in dietary fibre, protein and containing a host of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and more. Teff was discovered over 10,000 years ago in the Ethiopian Highlands and remains the staple of Ethiopian’s diet. Teff is Ethiopia’s treasure and is Ethiopia’s second gift to the world, after coffee.
What inspired you to start Berhan Teff?
As Ethiopian diaspora, finding quality teff in Canada has always been difficult. We tried US and European grown teff but the quality wasn’t the same, nothing could really satisfy our craving. We tried buying from other importers but with some of them cutting costs by adding cheap wheat flours and even sawdust it was hard to trust them. Like many Ethiopian and Eritrean diaspora families we would bring back suitcases full of teff when traveling back home, we even kept a secret stash that we would only share with our closest friends and family. Teff has always been a family treasure, our families owned teff farms and flour and spice mills in Ethiopia, so we know the secrets to selecting, growing and milling high quality teff. With our nursing, engineering and management backgrounds in Canada and with our family history in the teff industry we decided to take action and bring high quality authentic teff sourced exclusively from Africa to North America.
Why is it important that you source your grains from Africa?
There are over 400 varieties of teff last time we checked, each having its own unique personality. Outside of the classics brown and ivory, there are purple and even white teff colours having different tastes and properties. Similar to fine wines there are specific regions known for growing the highest quality teff varieties. When it comes to quality nothing beats Ethiopian grown teff. The demand for it is so huge the Ethiopian government had to ban exports for many years and still heavily monitors and restricts exports to keep local prices stable. We currently source our teff from carefully selected suppliers in Ethiopia, Djibouti, South Africa and are currently in the process of vetting Kenyan and Tanzanian farmers and suppliers as well to meet demand and secure our supply. We also believe in “Trade not Aid”, that developing countries need to be competitive and have fair access to international markets instead of just receiving foreign aid all the time. By working with and paying fair market prices to our farmers and suppliers we help stimulate African economic growth, development and access to international markets. By buying teff that is exclusively grown in Africa you not only get access to the finest quality teff in the world but also support African farmers, communities and countries.
Teff is the main ingredient to Ethiopian injera, what is the secret to good injera?
Every Ethiopian and Eritrean family has its own heavily guarded secret recipes and techniques for making injera, but everyone can agree that the quality of teff and how it was milled makes all the difference. Just as it has been for centuries in Ethiopia, stone milling remains the best way to mill high quality teff flours. Other methods, such as steel roller mills or hammer mills are too aggressive introducing too much heat but stone-milling gently grinds the teff into the best whole grain teff flours perfect for Injera. Making Injera is an art and there are different skill levels, the easiest being mixing teff with barley and wheat and the highest level being able to make 100% teff injera. The higher the percentage of teff you’re able to use shows the quality of the teff and your skill level, being able to make 100% teff injera on the first try is very hard. By using high quality teff flour and with practice you’ll be a pro in no time. Here are 5 quick tips to get great injera;
– When blending and mixing teff with water, start slowly and mix it well. You can test if it’s ready by rubbing the wet dough between your fingers, in the beginning it can feel slightly grainy like fine wet sand but it is ready when it’s no longer very grainy, it will never be perfectly smooth but should feel much smoother than in the beginning.
– Make sure your injera grill “mitad” is hot enough and distributes heat evenly before pouring. You will know if it’s hot enough if you sprinkle water on the surface and it sizzles and evaporates quickly. If you don’t have a clay or electric injera mitad using a non-stick pan works as well.
– As moisture accumulates on the lid make sure to wipe it off with a clean cloth or paper towel or water drops will fall on the injera and create gooey spots.
– Always allow injera to cool completely before stacking or they will stick together and become unusable.
– During winter seasons allow more time for the fermentation process.
What other ways do you recommend using Teff? What does it work well with?
Berhan teff flours are extremely versatile, with a fine and velvety texture and a gentle slightly nutty toasted aroma with hints of cocoa. Berhan teff works well in a wide range of recipes including pancakes, waffles, brownies, cakes, cookies, crackers, chips, breads, tortillas, pastas, energy bars and more. When incorporating teff into your recipes the general rule of thumb is to replace a quarter of the other flours with teff. Teff can work in most recipes by adjusting the ratio of teff used which makes it super easy to incorporate in your favourite foods. Teff’s flavour really works wonders in chocolatey recipes and we are always finding new ways of using it.
What is your hope for Berhan Teff?
Our hope is to continue empowering African farmers, communities and economies by providing access to international markets and continue working with them to modernize farming techniques and systems by continuing to build programs such as our Teff Traceability Initiative, that traces teff from your plate to the African Farmer that grew it, and Teff Grading Manual, that aims to create a globally recognized teff grading system to help ensure you only get the best teff. We also look forward to investing in and building state of the art teff processing facilities on the African continent to help increase our capacity and global reach. Our new dedicated gluten-free teff grain processing and stone-milling facility near Toronto, Canada is also developing and will be releasing some new teff products soon, stay tuned!
What advice do you have for other Black Food entrepreneurs?
Do what you can with what you’ve got! Many entrepreneurs fail to act on great ideas because they’re waiting on the perfect space, fancy equipment, investment or loan. If you have an idea that is really itching at you, write it down and begin planning it out, even if you can’t open it now you never know when opportunity will come knocking. Networking and connecting with other entrepreneurs and food business owners is a great way to avoid costly mistakes and find great resources, by learning from and supporting one another we strengthen each other. Remember that behind almost every success story are years of struggle and hardship, keep a close group of people you can confide in and keep up your faith through the journey.