New “Old” Grains: Teff and Spelt

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Did anyone try freekeh, the grain that I wrote about last week? I have yet to try it, but it’s on my list! In the meantime, there are plenty of other grains to enjoy. This week, let’s look at two more: teff and spelt.

According to the Whole Grains Council, the word “teff” is related to the word “lost” in Amharic, the main language of north central Ethiopia. Why “lost”? Probably because this grain is very tiny — about the size of a poppy seed. Being small has given teff an advantage: It’s well-suited to the nomadic life, since it only takes a handful of this grain to sow a field. Teff is also a hearty grain, being able to withstand drought, abundant rain, and disease. Because of its versatility, teff is grown in the dry soils of Idaho as well as the wet Netherlands.

How does it taste? There are different varieties of teff. It has a rather mild, sweet flavor, especially the lighter varieties. Darker-colored teff has an earthier flavor, like hazelnuts.

What are the health benefits? Teff is a rich source of both calcium and vitamin C. It’s also a good source of protein. Red teff is higher in iron than other varieties. People with diabetes may feel more comfortable eating teff than other types of grains due to its resistant starch content. Resistant starch is a type of carbohydrate that is slow to be digested and, as a result, can help with blood glucose control and weight management.

How many calories and carbs does teff contain? A half-cup of cooked teff contains roughly 125 calories and 25 grams of carbohydrate, plus 5 grams of protein.

Does teff contain gluten? No, teff does not contain gluten, making it ideal for those on a gluten-free diet.

Where do you buy teff? As with most grains, your local health-food store will carry teff, and your grocery store may carry it as well.

How do you cook teff? Traditionally, in Ethiopia, teff is ground into a flour to make a type of bread called injera, similar to a sourdough flatbread. Teff flour can be substituted for wheat flour (except for in some bread recipes, where gluten is needed). To cook teff, place 1 cup of uncooked teff in 3 cups of water or broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.

How do you eat teff? Use teff in place of other grains, like rice or pasta, in your eating plan. Teff can be added to soups and stews. Find recipes for teff on the Teff Company Web site.

Spelt has been around since about 6000 BC and is native to Iran. This grain is actually a type of wheat that has been around in the US since the 1800’s. Until recently, spelt was used primarily as animal feed, but it’s become more popular due to its flavor and nutritional benefits.

How does it taste? Spelt has a nutty flavor and tastes similar to barley. It’s also somewhat chewy and stays fluffy even after cooking.

What are the health benefits? Spelt is high in protein, fiber, and B vitamins. It has a low glycemic index, which means that it’s less likely to “spike” your blood glucose after you eat it.

How many calories does spelt contain? A half-cup of cooked spelt contains about 120 calories, 25 grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein, making this a good grain to include in your eating plan.

Does spelt contain gluten? Yes. Remember, spelt is a type of wheat, so it’s not suitable for people on a gluten-free diet.

Where do you buy spelt? You’ll find this grain at health-food stores, online, and possibly in your supermarket.

How do you cook spelt? Add 3 cups of water or broth to 1 cup of spelt berries. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

How do you eat spelt? Eat spelt as you would any grain; try adding it to soups and stews. You can also purchase spelt flour and use that in place of whole wheat flour or whole-grain flour in recipes. Check out these spelt recipes on Bon Appetit’s Web site.

Whatever your thoughts are on grains, I hope that you’ll at least keep an open mind and try some of the lesser-known grains. You may find that these grains, because they’re unprocessed (as long as you choose the whole-grain versions) don’t affect your blood glucose levels to a great extent (you still need to watch portions). And trying different foods can also prevent you from getting bored. If you’ve tried any of these “new” old grains, let us know!

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