Image of a bowl of muffins and some bags labeled Teff

One of the benefits of teff over wheat is that it’s gluten free. Credit: CSIRO

One of the benefits of teff over wheat is that it’s gluten free Credit: CSIRO

You’ve heard of rice and wheat. You may have heard of maize and quinoa. But have you heard of teff? This ancient grain has been feeding the people of Ethiopia for thousands of years. And thanks to the work of CSIRO, it might soon be feeding you too!

Thu McCann is a food scientist, and CSIRO’s top teff chef. She works in the lab, developing new food products.

Thu’s teff story started in 2015. When her group got an email from teff farmer Fraser McNaul, her food science skills meant she was the best scientist for the job. So Thu invited Fraser to CSIRO’s Food Innovation Centre in Werribee, Victoria.

Fraser had been growing teff for a few years, and thought there was real potential in the crop. But he needed someone to turn his grain into products that could be sold at supermarkets. Fraser and Thu quickly drew up a plan to develop several teff based foods.

Thu started looking at baked goods, and one of her first successes was with muffins. Rather than starting from scratch, she adapted a recipe for normal, wheat flour based muffins. “It already has the right ratios of sugar and egg.” explains Thu. “The only adjustment needed is the flour – how do we replace wheat flour with teff flour?”

Thu carefully chose two extra ingredients to make the batter behave properly. She made sure it had the right viscosity (thickness), and could hold air so the muffins would come out soft and fluffy. After making many small changes to the recipe, Thu finalised her muffin recipe.

One of the benefits of teff over wheat is that it’s gluten free. “I’m actually surprised how good it is!” Thu enthuses. She tested the muffins on her colleagues around the lab, to great results. “They didn’t believe they were gluten free. The texture is just so good!”

Some of Thu’s experiments were not as successful. When she tried to make bread, the loaves didn’t feel right. After several attempts, she moved on to different products. “Making bread is an art,” says Thu. “You need to understand the function of the ingredients. Gluten gives the bread elasticity and the right texture, and that’s missing in teff.”

Still, there’s plenty to be excited about. Thu has also developed an extruded teff snack product, similar to Twisties. And there may be more products on the way. So for many Australians, particularly those who don’t like or can’t eat gluten, the future could be filled with teff!

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