In Ethiopia they eat it 5,000 years ago. But the United States and Europe started flirting with him recently, which is why they give him the title of "new superfood." Down here, on this side of the map, hardly anyone talks about Teff: the smallest grain in the world, gluten-free, loaded with fiber, protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals and that could begin to be cultivated in the country.
Teff (its scientific name is Eragrostis tef) is the basis of Ethiopian diet and is as popular there as wheat or corn are here. It is mainly used to produce injera, a very fine flatbread. Since 2006, the authorities have banned its export for fear that the increase in external demand - prompted by the disclosure of its benefits - would deprive the local market. Starting next month, however, the African country will be able to commercialize Teff flour internationally (not the grain).
Like quinoa or spelled, Teff has come to earn a place in the world of superfoods. Properties are not lacking, say those who know. “It's loaded with nutrients, it's gluten-free, and it's packed with minerals and fiber. Its proteins are very healthy, it is very close to the white of an egg. For athletes it is a delicacy ”, says in dialogue with Clarín from Spain Egbert Sonneveld, a Dutch agronomist who is dedicated to the cultivation of grain in Castilla y León. The Iberian country is the only country in Europe - until now - in which the grain is produced. There are also plantations in the United States, where the current "Teff-mania" was born. Stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham confessed themselves to being avid consumers of the cereal.
“Over the past decade, the recognition that teff is a gluten-free grain has sparked global interest. Due to this, studies on its nutritional composition, way of processing, and the benefits that its consumption implies for health were accentuated. Among them, one of the most important is its composition of complex carbohydrates with slow digesting starch that lower its glycemic index, making it suitable for diabetics. Although its protein content is similar to other cereals, it is richer in the essential amino acid lysine. Whole wheat flour from Teff is a good source of fiber, minerals (especially calcium and iron) and phytochemicals such as polyphenols and phytates ”, explains Nicolás Apro, director of the Center for Research and Development in Cereal and Oilseed Industrialization Technologies of the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI), based on July 9, Buenos Aires province.
It is ideal for making bread or pasta for those who have gluten-free diets, especially celiacs. As for calcium, 130 grams of Teff provide the same amount as a glass of milk or 60 grams of spinach and 62% of the recommended fiber per day. The high level of lysine - one of the eight essential amino acids it contains - speeds up muscle repair and helps produce elastin and natural collagen, resulting in smooth, youthful skin. It also provides vitamin C -which is not usually found in cereal grains- and a high level of vitamin B1 and B6. Besides being rich in minerals such as iron, phosphorus, manganese and copper. All that in the smallest grain in the world: 3,000 grains weigh just one gram.
For Apro, who is part of the scientific advisory committee of the Argentine Celiac Association, “these advantages give Teff an enormous potential for application in whole grain food products, in the formulation of functional foods for the promotion of health and prevention of diseases".
Sonneveld says that it is enough to consume it a week to notice the changes. “We always recommend starting with a teaspoon, moving on to a large spoon and after five to ten. The intestine has to adapt because it is a fiber pump (the good kind, all soluble) ", says the engineer and points out that in Europe and the United States scientific studies are being carried out on its properties. "In Ethiopia there are people who eat half a kilo a day and you see how they run," he jokes.
Through Blonk, his venture, the Dutch engineer is dedicated to managing the crop (from sowing to harvest) and marketing the Teff. And now he is working on the construction of a factory for manufactured products (flour, flakes, cookies). Receive orders from all over the world, including Argentina. He intended to produce here, but found an obstacle in Senasa's quarantine rule.
María Julia Palacín, director of Plant Quarantine at Senasa, explained that the cultivation of Teff is not prohibited in Argentina, but that a series of steps must be completed to enter the seed. “We establish the requirements of vegetable products for their entry into the country. There are products for which these requirements are already established because there were previous requests, so the authorization is issued practically immediately. But when it comes to new products or new origins, a pest risk analysis must be developed, which is a technical study that we develop based on an international standard that all countries use to establish import requirements for plant products, for which is asked to the country of origin of the product to provide us with information about it, about the growing conditions and the pests that affect it in the country of origin ".
This process - carried out by Senasa and has no cost - begins once a producer or interested party submits a formal request to enter the grain into the country. Once completed, the green light turns on.
Teff grows in any type of soil, "what it needs is water and temperature," says Sonneveld. “It is a C4 cereal, it works very well in hot areas. But you need water at one point and not another ”, he clarifies. That was what sealed its failure in Holland, where the rain gives little respite. There it is used as fodder ("it is medicinal for ruminants and horses. The farmers are delighted: everything that is harvested is used").
Sooner or later, Argentina will probably have Teff. “Like any new crop, for its production and consumption to develop, it must work integrally in its value chain, defining the processing technologies and the application of flour in baked goods. INTI Cereales y Oleaginosas, has the technical capabilities to carry out these developments and the transfer to the productive sector, providing technical assistance through specialized professionals and very innovative available technologies to accompany companies that wish to enter new internal and export markets " , concluded Apro.