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Pandemic bakers turn to Teff

Posted at 8:15 AM, Jan 28, 2021

BOISE, Idaho — It’s an ancient grain, but new interest in Teff is growing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teff is an ingredient, often used in Ethiopian cuisine, that's found its way into U.S. ovens and the hearts of bakers. Despite the trend starting small, one Boise-based company says their customer base is now booming.

"Teff is about the size of a poppyseed. It’s the smallest grain in the world," said The Teff Company's Agricultural Manager Royd Carlson.

The Teff Company has been around for more than 35 years.

"My dad lived in Ethiopia back in the '70s and worked in the public health sector. He became acquainted with Ethiopian culture and cuisine," said Carlson.

Carlson's father brought it back to Idaho, and now decades later, his son Royd and Business Manager TJ Anderson say the demand for the grain in 2020 was like nothing they’ve ever seen.

"It kind of came from all angles," Anderson said.

So why the overwhelming interest in the ancient ingredient?

"[Bakers] weren’t going out of the house due to quarantine so they were buying more from the website. They were buying-out retail partners and emptying their shelves," said Anderson.

Quarantine life sent people inside, with bakers taking to Instagram, showing off their skills. So much so, grocery stores were running out of basic baking supplies.

"Once people know about Teff the next question is, 'How do we use it,'" Anderson said.

Teff originated in Africa and is often used to make Injera, a spongy bread. It’s naturally gluten-free and high in protein and calcium.

Anderson and Carlson say it could easily be the next quinoa.

"There's been kind of growing interest in whole grains," Anderson said.

The Ethiopian government controls the amount of Teff exported from the country, because a shortage of the staple or rising prices due to renewed interest, could impact the Ethiopians who rely on its availability.

Early on, The Teff Company had to look for customers, but today it’s all about keeping up with demand.

Anderson and Carlson say it’s a good problem to have.

"There's certainly some room for diversification and value, and we're just trying to be a little piece of that pie."