Table of Contents
Stallknecht, G.F., K.M. Gilbertson, and J.L. Eckhoff. 1993. Teff: Food crop
for humans and animals. p. 231-234. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New
crops. Wiley, New York.
Food Crop for Humans and Animals
Stallknecht*, Kenneth M. Gilbertson, and J.L. Eckhoff
- Nutritive Value
- Disease and Pests
- FUTURE PROSPECTS
- Fig. 1
Present day production and use of Erogrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter, which
means "lost" in Amharic, for grain or fodder in the United States represents
re-discovery of a crop used by ancient civilizations. Teff is a C4 plant
(Kebede et al. 1989), having Kranz anatomical characteristics, and is
intermediate between a tropical and temperate grass. The use of teff can be
traced back to about 3359 BC (Mengesha 1965). In contrast to amaranth, which
was utilized by early civilizations throughout the world, teff production and
uses have been primarily restricted to the countries of Ethiopia, India and its
colonies, and Australia (Anon. 1894). While teff grain still provides over
two-thirds of the human nutrition in Ethiopia, it is relatively unknown as a
food crop elsewhere. Teff has adaptive characteristics similar to other crops
grown by early civilizations. Teff can be cultivated under a wide range of
environmental conditions such as on marginal soils under water logged to
drought conditions. Teff can produce a crop in a relative short growing season
and will produce both grain for human food and fodder for cattle. The grain is
either white or a very deep reddish brown in color. Published accounts of teff
in the late 1800s report that upper class consumed the white grain, the dark
grain was the food of soldiers and servants, while hay made from teff was
consumed by bullocks (Anon. 1894, 1897). Late 20th century publications in the
United States describes teff grain as being marketed as a health food product,
or used as a late planted emergency forage for livestock (Goerge 1991, Weibye
Eragrostis is a member of the tribe Eragrosteae, sub-family
Eragrostoidae, of the Poaceae (Gramineae). There are approximately 300
species in the genus Eragrostis consisting of both annuals or perennials
which are found over a wide geographic range. Eragrostis species are
classified based on characteristics of culms, spikelets, lateral veins,
pedicels, panicle, flowering scales, and flower scale colors. Recently, the
taxonomy of teff has been clarified by numerical taxonomy techniques, cytology
and biochemistry, including leaf flavanoids and seed protein electrophoretic
patterns (Jones et al. 1979; Costanza et al. 1980; Bekele and Lester 1981).
Teff is a fine stemmed, tufted annual grass (Fig. 1). The plant has the
appearance of a bunch grass, having large crowns and many tillers. The
inflorescence is an open panicle and produces small seeds (1,000 weigh 0.3 to
0.4 g). The roots are shallow and develop a massive fiberous rooting system.
Plant height of teff varies dependent upon cultivar type and growing
Agronomic production guidelines for teff cultivation were first published by
westerners in the late 1800s (Anon. 1984). Teff was recommended for light
moist soils using staggered planting dates. At present, a number of practical
production guides are available in the United States (Goerge 1991; Twidwell et
al. 1991; Weibye 1991).
Planting of teff requires a firm moist seed bed to effect good soil
moisture-seed contact due to the extremely small seed size. Planting can be
accomplished using a Brillion grass seeder and cultipacker combination, or by a
spinner type grass seeder. Seeding rates varies from 2.3 to 9 kg/ha, with 5 to
8 kg/ha generally recommended. Teff germinates rapidly when planted an average
depth of 1.2 cm, however, the initial growth is slow until a good root system
has been established. Forage yields of teff in South Dakota have ranged from 4
to 11 t/ha, depending upon planting date and number of cuttings (Boe et al.
1986). In Montana, forage yields cut from dryland and irrigated cropping
ranged from 2.2 to 15 t/ha. Teff seed yields in Montana ranged from 0.2 to 1.5
t/ha. The low seed yields were obtained at the MSU Southern Agr. Res. Center,
Huntley, when planted as a non-irrigated dryland crop, due to poor stands and
drought conditions. Harvesting teff for either forage or seed production is
easily accomplished, as long as the combine is seed tight. Teff seed can
shatter if harvest is delayed. Broad leafed weeds in teff can be easily
controlled by use of broad leaf herbicides, however grass weeds if present, can
outcompete the teff during the early stages of plant growth. No specific
fertility studies have been conducted, but rates similar to those suggested for
millets or sorghums are recommended. Green house studies on nutritional
requirements of teff have been conducted at Oklahoma State University
Department of Agronomy, Stillwater (pers. commun.).
The nutritive value of teff for livestock fodder is similar to other grasses
utilized as hay or ensiled feeds (Boe et al. 1986; Twidwell et al. 1991).
Digestability studies of cell wall contents suggests that teff has tropical
grass characteristics (Morris 1980), protein and digestability as forage
decreases with increased maturity. Protein content of teff forage produced in
South Dakota ranged from a high of 19.5 to a low of 12% as the plant matured.
In Montana, teff hay protein content ranged from 13.7 to 9.6%. Protein level
(10 to 12%) of teff grain is similar to other cereal grains. Teff has a very
high calcium content, and contains high levels of phosphorous, iron, copper,
aluminum, barium, and thiamine (Mengesha 1965). The principal use of teff
grain for human food is the Ethiopian bread (injera). Injera is a major food
staple, and provides approximately two-thirds of the diet in Ethiopia (Stewart
and Getachew 1962). While the reported high iron content of teff seed has been
refuted, the lack of anemia in Ethiopia, is considered to be due to the
available iron from injera (Mamo and Parsons 1987). Injera is described as a
soft, porous, thin pancake, which has a sour taste. Teff is low in gluten and
therefore, the bread remains quite flat. When eaten in Ethiopia, teff flour is
often mixed with other cereal flours, but the flavor and quality of injera made
from mixtures is considered less tasty. Injera made entirely from barley,
wheat, maize or millet flours is said to have a bitter taste. The degree of
sour taste is imparted by the length of the fermentation process. If the dough
is fermented for only a short period of time, injera has a tasty sweet flavor.
Research studies on the techniques used to make injera have indicated that a
yeast, Candida guilliermondii (Cast.) Longeron & Guerra, is the
microorganism primarily responsible for the fermentation process (Stewart and
Teff is relatively free of plant diseases when compared to other cereal crops.
In Ethiopia, in locales where humidities are high, rusts and head smuts are
important diseases. In Ethiopia, 22 fungi and 3 pathogenic nematodes have been
identified on teff (Bekele 1985). Teff seedlings are also susceptable to
Damping-off caused by Drechslera poae and Helminthosporium poae
(Baudys) Shoemaker, when sown too early (Ketema 1987). Insect pests of teff in
Ethiopia include Wello-bush cricket, Decticoides brevipennis, red
tefworm, Mentaxya ignicollis, tef epilachna, and tef black beetle.
Since teff has been limited to small areas in the United States few disease and
insect problems have been observed. However, a serious problem was observed in
South Dakota where the stem boring wasp, Eurytomocharis eragrostidis
(Howard) reduced forage yields by over 70% (McDaniel and Boe 1990). Although
the insect problem was observed in only one out of the five years in research
trials, the significant losses obtained could be a deterent to commercial
expansion of teff production.
A detailed description of 34 named Ethiopian teff cultivars based on
morphological characteristics was published in 1975 (Ebba 1975). The cultivars
are described by differences in culms, panicles, panicle branches, leaves,
flowers, spikelets, and grains. Studies on teff production in Montana were
initiated by evaluating over 300 accessions, subsequently reduced to 12 for
further study (Fig. 1). A cultivar selected from a PI accession by A. Boe,
South Dakota State, has been designated SD100. In addition to SD100, a limited
number of accessions have been selected by private individuals.
Attempts to develop methods to improve breeding of teff cultivars (which are
self-pollinating) have met with only limited success (Mengesha et al. 1965;
Berhe and Miller 1978; Berhe et al. 1989). While teff production in Ethiopia
occupies large areas and is the most important staple of the country, most
cultivars are selections that have been grown for thousands of years. Although
cultivar development has been given a high research priority most on going
studies have focused on agronomic practices.
While teff has survived for thousands of years as a major food staple for
humans and as fodder for cattle, there are some negative aspects to the
nutritional value of injera. Research studies have shown that if the
fermentation process is prolonged to produce the sour type of injera, essential
nutrients particularly amino acids such as lysine are lost in the liquid which
is removed from the dough. The nutrient loss can be reduced if the
fermentation process is shortened but then the result is a sweet type of
injera, which does not store as well as the sour type. Tabita is also a
fermented teff flour pancake which is easily digestible and non-bitter (Anon.
1897). We do not known if the tabita bread is another name for injera.
The major advantages of teff production in Ethiopia according to Ketema (1987)
are as follows:
Domestic experience in teff production is limited; however, teff grain has
already found a niche as grain and flour in the health food market. The future
of teff forage production for livestock in the United States is unknown. Teff
does have the advantage of producing a good hay or pasture crop when late
season plantings are required due to a crop failure. Results of a nationwide
survey indicate that this crop is virtually unknown in most states, and that
production may be limited to only a few western states. Information on teff
production in the United States remains scarce as most teff production is
handled by private entrepreneurs.
It can be grown under moisture-stress areas.
- It can be grown under waterlogged conditions.
- It is suitable and is used for double and relay cropping.
- Its straw is a valuable animal feed during the dry season when there is acute
shortage of feed. It is highly preferred by cattle and costs higher than the
straw of other cereals.
- It has acceptance in the national diet and enables farmers to earn more
because of its high price.
- It is a reliable and low-risk crop.
- It is useful as rescue or catch crop in moisture-stress areas. For example,
around Kobo or Zeway, farmers first plant maize around April. If the crop
fails due to moisture stress, they plow it under and plant sorghum. If this
one also fails, it is again plowed under and as a last resort farmers sow teff.
In some areas teff is sown because farmers cannot grow wheat, maize, or sorghum
due to moisture stress. However, this practice is not widespread, and farmers
should be encouraged to reserve teff for use if crops of other cereals fail,
especially in drought-prone areas.
- It can be stored easily under local storage conditions since it is not
attacked by the weevil and other storage pests, thus reducing postharvest
- It can be stored for a relatively long period of time (a minimum of 3 years)
before it loses its viability. It can be stored in moisture-stress areas where
more than one sowing in one season is a common practice or where the rains can
fail for more than one year. If it is required for food, it can also be stored
for more than 5 years, and perhaps indefinitely.
- It has less disease and pest problems than any other cereal.
- Anon. 1894. Tropical fodder grasses. Kew Bul. 95:378-380.
- Anon. 1887. Teff (Eragrostis abyssinica). Kew Bul. 1:2-6.
- Bekele, E. and R.N. Lester. 1981. Biochemical assessment of the relationship
of Eragrostis tef (Zucc) Trotter with some wild Eragrostis
species (Gramineae). Ann. Bot. 48:717-725.
- Bekele, E. 1985. A review of research on diseases of barley, tef, and wheat
in Ethiopia, p. 79-108. In: T. Abate (ed.). A review of crop protection
research in Ethiopia. Proc. First Ethiopian Crop Prod. Symp. Dept. Crop
Protection, Inst. Agr. Res., Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
- Berhe, T. and D.G. Miller. 1976. Sensitivity of tef [Eragrostis tef
(Zucc.) Trotter] to removal of floral parts. Crop Sci. 16:307-308.
- Berhe, T. and D.G. Miller. 1978. Studies of ethephon as a possible selective
male gametocide on teff. Crop Sci. 18:35-38.
- Berhe, T., L.A. Nelson, M.R. Morris, and J.W. Schmidt. 1989. Inheritance of
phenotypic traits in teff: 1. Lemma color. J. Hered. 80:62-70.
- Boe, A., J. Sommerfeldt, R. Wynia, and N. Thiex. 1986. A preliminary
evaluation of the forage potential of teff. Proc. South Dakota Acad. Sci.
- Costanza, S.H., J.M.J. deWet, and J.R. Harlan. 1979. Literature review and
numerical taxonomy of Eragrostis tef (T'ef). Econ. Bot. 33:413-424.
- Ebba. T. 1975. T'ef (Eragrostis tef) cultivars: Morphology and
classification. Part II. Expt. Sta. Bul. 66. Addis Ababa Univ. College Agr.,
- Goerge, D. 1991. Cattle like Love Grass. In: The Dakota farmer 109:11.
Intertec Pub. Minneapolis, MN.
- Jones, B.M.G., J. Ponti, A Tavassoli, and P.A. Dixon. 1978. Relationships of
the Ethiopian cereal t'ef [Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter]: Evidence
from morphology and chromosome number. Ann. Bot. 42:1369-1373.
- Kebede, H., R.C. Johnson, and D.M. Ferris. 1989. Photosynthetic response of
Eragrostis tef to temperature. Physiol. Plant. 77:262-266.
- Ketema, S. 1987. Research recommendations for production and brief outline of
strategy for the improvment of tef [Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter].
In: Proc. 19th Natl. Crop. Imp. Conf. IAR. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
- Mamo, T. and J.W. Parsons. 1987. Iron nutrition of Eragrostis tef
(teff). Trop. Agr. (Trinidad). 64:313-317.
- Mengesha, M.H. 1965. Chemical composition of Teff (Eragrostis tef)
compared with that of wheat, barley and grain sorghum. Econ. Bot.
- Mengesha, M.H., R.C. Pickett, and R.L. Davis. 1965. Genetic variability and
interrelationship of characters in Teff, Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter.
Crop Sci. 5:155-157.
- McDaniel, B. and A. Boe. 1990. A new host record for Euryto-mocharis
eragrostidis Howard (Chalcidoidea: eurytomidae infesting
Eragrostis tef in South Dakota. Proc. Entomol. Soc. Wash.
- Morris, E.J. 1980. The cell walls of Eragrostis tef: variations in
chemical composition and digestibility. J. Agr. Sci. Camb. 95:305-311.
- Stewart, R.B. and S. Getachew. 1962. Investigations of the nature of Injera.
Econ. Bot. 16:127-130.
- Twidwell, E.K., A. Boe, and D.P. Casper. 1991. Teff: a new annual forage
grass for South Dakota. ExEx 8071. Coop. Ext. Serv. South Dakota State Univ.
- Weibye, C. 1990. Fast food for livestock. In: Hay & forage grower.
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*The senior author acknowledges Vicki L. Bradley, Western Regional Plant
Introduction Station, Washington State Univ., Pullman, and Arvid Boe, Dept.
Plant Sci., South Dakota State Univ., Brookings, for assisting with the
Fig. 1. Teff (Eragrostis tef) cultivar trial, dryland cropping,
Montana State Univ., Central Research Center, Moccasin, MT, 1990.
Last update September 10, 1997