Tef, Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter, is the most important cereal of Ethiopia; annually tef accounts for
about 28 % of the total acreage and 19 % of the gross grain production of the major cereals
cultivated in the country (CSA, 2008) (Table 1). It is the major staple food grain for over 50 million
The crop species owes its centers of both origin and diversity in Ethiopia (Vavilov 1951). Tef
cultivation as a cereal food grain is restricted to Ethiopia, except in very small quantities in Eritrea
and recently, in the USA, the Netherlands and Israel. However, the plant is known elsewhere in the
world such as in South Africa, India, Pakistan, Uganda, Kenya and Mozambique mainly as a forage or
In Ethiopia, tef grain is mainly used for food after baking the ground flour into pancake-like soft and
sour bread, “injera”, which forms the major component of the favorite national dish of most
Ethiopians. It is also consumed in the form of porridge, slightly fermented or un-fermented non-
raised breads (“kita” and “anebabero”), small breads “hunkuro” or Dabo Kolo”, and soup (“muk”).
Although recent economic feasibilities might have limited such uses, the grain is also used for
brewing native beer, “talla”, and more alcoholic cottage liquor, “katikalla” or “arakie.
The long-sustained extensive cultivation of tef in Ethiopia can be attributed to its relative merits over
other cereals both in husbandry and utilization (Ketema, 1993; Assefa et al., 2010). Of these, its
merits in cultivation include:
1) Versatile adaptation to different agro-ecologies from sea level up to 3000 m above sea level;
2) Resilience to both drought and waterlogging stresses;
3) Fitness for various cropping systems;
4) Use as a catch and low-risk reliable crop especially in replacement cultures for failures of early
sown long-season crops such as maize and sorghum due to environmental calamities or pests;
5) Little or no serious threats of disease and pest epidemics, at least, in its major production belts.
On the other hand, its beneficial features with respect to utilization involve:
1) Best quality and most consumer-preferred “injera” of the grains;
2) High returns in flour of 99% compared to 60-80% from wheat upon milling (Ebba, 1969) and in
3) Minimal post-harvest losses due to storage pests and diseases coupled with high storage longevity
4) Importance of the straw mainly as fodder for cattle and as a binder of mud used for plastering
walls of local houses; and
5) Cash crop value owing to the high market prices of both the grains and the straw.
Overall, tef is the number one important crop in Ethiopia and plays a vital role in the food
security of the country. Furthermore, the hardy nature of the tef crop and its physiological
plasticity in phenology (vegetative stage, flowering and maturity) and morphology (tillering,
height and others) make it a potential crop for combating climate change and environmental
The nutritional status of tef grain is comparable to other major world cereals, and is even
higher in some aspects such as iron and calcium contents (e.g. see the review by Wondimu and
Tekabe, 2001). While its high iron content is implicated in the relatively low prevalence of
hookworm- and pregnancy-related anaemia, the high calcium composition makes it important
for supplementation in baby food formulations such as Faffa in Ethiopia. On the other hand,
tef has recently been receiving global attention particularly as a “health food” due to the
absence of gluten and gluten-like proteins in tef grains, making it suitable for persons suffering
from gluten allergy ailments known as celiac disease (Spaenij-Dekking et al., 2005), and also due
to other dietary aspects such as slow-release carbohydrate constituents useful for diabetic
patients. This implies the high potential of tef as foreign currency earning export commodity for
According to Ketema (1993) some of the new recipes for the utilization of tef include: tef
breakfast cereal; tef waffles, whole grain muffins, Moroccan chicken, Jalapeno tef fillets, Great
chocolate cake; Chocolate mint refrigerator cookies, tef banana bread, Date cake; and Double-
tef butter-pecan tea cakes.
Taxonomically, tef belongs to the grass family, Poaceae, sub-family Chloridoideae (Eragrostoideae),
tribe Eragrostidae, sub-tribe Eragrostae, and genus Eragrostis. The genus Eragrostis comprises
about 350 species (Watson and Dallawitz, 1992). Although the crop species have had several
synonyms previously used by several authors, its presently most accepted binomial nomenclature is
Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter. In cultivation as a cereal, tef is the only species in the genus Eragrostis
and together with finger millet (Eleusine crocana L.) they constitute the sole two species in the sub-
family Chloridoideae cultivated for human consumption of the grains.
The genus Eragrostis is generally a complex taxon characterized by the prevalence of polyploidy
(about 69%) and common presence of cytological races. The species in the genus range from
diploids (2n = 2x = 20) to hexaploids (2n = 6x = 60). Tef is an allotetraploid (2n = 4x = 40) forming 20
bivalents in the meiotic Metaphase I (Tavassoli, 1986), coupled with disomic inheritance patterns
(Berhe et al., 2001). Nevertheless, the putative diploid progenitors have not yet been identified.
Recent DNA-based studies suggested that E. pilosa, also an allotetraploid, is the closest relative and
possibly the immediate wild progenitor of tef (Ayele et al., 1999; Ayele and Nguyen, 2000; Ingram
and Doyle, 2003).
FAO Code Commodity Description
TEF. A small grained cereal that has both food and
feed uses. Tef is the major food grain in most
Including inter alia: tef [Eragrostis tef of Ethiopia, where it is also used in traditional
(Zucc.) Trotter], and a semi- brewing, native beer, “talla” and a more
domesticated wild relative of tef, alcoholic liquor, “Katikalla” or “arakie”.
Eragrostis pilosa (L.) P. Beauv.
Originated by domestication of wild species
Common/vernacular names include in Ethiopia since pre-historic times
tef, teff, te’f, tahf, and taffy. Grains
range in color from dark brown to
Broadly defined to include meal, groats and
Flour of Tef: pellets
Straw of tef See Chapter 11
Beverages of tef See Chapter 15
Chapter 11. Fodder Crops and Products
FAO Code Commodity Description
Straw of Tef Defined broadly to include the straw and
other crop residues (chaff) from the
threshing of the crop. Contains a little of the
The plant is grown as forage crop in countries
like South Africa
Chapter 15. Beverages
FAO Code Commodity Description
Beverages of Tef Ethiopian native beer, talla, and a more
alcoholic cottage liquor, katikalla or arakie
Assefa, K., Yu, J.-K., Zeid, M., Belay, G., Tefera, H., Sorrells, M. E., 2010, Breeding tef
[Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter]: conventional and molecular approaches (review).
Plant Breeding. doi:10.1111/j.1439 – 0523.2010.01782.x (9pp).
Ayele, M., H. Tefera, K. Assefa, and H. T. Nguyen, 1999: Genetic characterization of Eragrostis
species using AFLP and morphological traits, Hereditas 130, 33-40.
Ayele, M., and H. T. Nguyen, 2000: Evaluation of amplified fragment length polymorphism markers
in tef, Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter, and related species. Plant Breed. 119, 403-409.
Berhe, T., L. A. Nelson, M. R. Morris, and J. W. Schmidt, 2001: The genetics of qualitative traits in tef.
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Proceedings of the International Workshop on Tef Genetics and Improvement, Debre Zeit,
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research organization, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
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pests. Part I. Expt. Sta. Bull. No. 66. Haile Sellassie I Univesity (HSIU). College of Agriculture, Dire
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polyploids: Evidence from the nuclear waxy and plastid rps16. American Journal of Botany 90,
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Ethiopian agriculture. Institute of Agricultural Research, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Spaenij-Dekking, L., Y. Kooy-Winkelaar, and F. Koning, 2005: The Ethiopian cereal tef in celiac
disease. New England J. Med. 353, 16.
Tavassoli, A., 1986: The cytology of Eragrostis with special reference to E. tef and its relatives. PhD
Thesis, University of London, Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, UK.
Vavilov, I., 1951: The origin, variation, immunity and breeding of cultivated plants. Translated from
the Russian by K. S. Chester, Ronald Press Co. New York, USA.
Watson, L., and M. J. Dallawitz, 1992: The grass genus of the world. CAB International, Wallingford,
Wondimu, A. and F. Tekabe. 2001. Utilization of tef in the Ethiopian diet. In: H. Tefera, G. Belay and
M. Sorrells (eds). Narrowing the Rift. Tef Research and Development. Proceedings of the
International Workshop on Tef Genetics and Improvement, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia, 16-19 October