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What’s Teff?: Idaho second highest producer of the grain in the world

It’s no secret that Idaho is known for its potatoes. But there’s another crop sprouting in popularity that’s grown right here in Idaho.

Second to Ethiopia, according to The Teff Company, Idaho is one of the highest producers of an ancient grain known as teff.

Teff originated in Ethiopia and Eritrea and dates back thousands of years. It’s a staple food in Ethiopia that’s used to make a thin, pancake-like fermented flatbread called injera – which is eaten with spicy stews and sauces at every meal.

“Idaho is famous for potatoes, obviously, but if you talk to Ethiopian or Eritrean people around the country, Idaho is famous for teff!” The Teff Company Marketing and Agriculture Manager Royd Carlson said.

Teff being used to make injera. Photo courtesy: The Teff Company.

The fine grain, about the size of a poppy seed, is grown in various colors, including white, red, and dark brown. It has a subtle earthy, nutty flavor and is high in protein, calcium, iron, and fiber.

In Boise, Kibrom’s – an Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurant off State Street – uses teff to make injera and sells The Teff Company’s Maskal Teff to customers.

Grown in Idaho

So how did teff land in Idaho’s fields?

The The Teff Company has been producing and selling the crop in Idaho for the last 35 years. “We have been an important supplier to the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities here in the USA, and we have slowly been introducing other people to teff as well,” Carlson said.

It all started when founder Wayne Carlson spent several years in Ethiopia working in public health in the 1970s.

“In the 1980s, many Ethiopian people came to the United States as refugees from famine and political instability,” Royd Carlson said. “Wayne knew the importance of teff to them and started encouraging some local Idaho farmers to start producing teff to fill the need.”

According to Carlson, Idaho’s hot, dry summers make for the perfect conditions to produce teff. Idaho is also a great place to grow it because teff rotates well with several of the other common crops found in this area and is also a light user of resources, such as water and fertilizer. Today, The Teff Company grows the grain in the Treasure and Magic Valleys.

Gluten-free option

While teff has been a staple in Ethiopian food for centuries, it’s growing in popularity for bakers, chefs, and those with celiac disease needing a gluten-free grain. In addition to selling the grain, The Teff Company also makes teff flour for baking.

“We distribute throughout the United States, particularly to larger metropolitan centers with larger Ethiopian and Eritrean populations such as Washington DC, Minneapolis, Seattle, and others – often in ethnic markets,” Carlson said.

Locally, its products can be found at grocery stores across the Treasure Valley, including Boise Co-op locations, Albertsons, and Whole Foods. It’s also sold on Teff’s website as well as on Amazon.

“We aim to continue to increase our teff production to support growing demand for teff,” Carlson said. “We hope that teff can grow in importance as an Idaho crop,” Carlson said. “We see a lot of potential in developing new markets for teff as more people gain awareness of it.”

For various recipes, including how to make gluten-free baked goods and other dishes, click here.

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Anna Daly - BoiseDev Reporter
Anna Daly - BoiseDev Reporter
Anna Daly is a reporter for BoiseDev. She's an Emmy-winning journalist, and a professor at the College of Western Idaho. Contact her at [email protected].

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