There's a new ancient grain in town, and it goes by the name of teff. The tiniest grain in the world is native to Ethiopia, where it's mainly used to bake injera; the flatbread that's a national dish and eaten daily in households. Teff is a nutritional goldmine—a great source of iron, calcium, protein, is naturally gluten-free and can act as a substitute for wheat flour in various recipes. Love Grain is a newly launched company bringing teff to the US market, but from the start, it's a social enterprise that creates a tangible, positive social impact.
Love Grain was co-founded by two friends, MIT students Aleem Ahmed and Caroline Mauldin. In 2012, Ahmed discovered teff the first day he started working at the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency, where he was investigating farming innovations that would help farmers reap a bigger harvest. Staying with local families in the Great Rift Valley, he learned their values and goals: "to educate their children, provide food for their families year round, and cultivate the land from planting to harvest." When Ahmed returned to the US, he connected with Mauldin (a gluten-free former political appointee and speechwriter) "and began to see the growing gluten-free market in the United States as just the opportunity that Ethiopian farmers could benefit from."
Love Grain purchases teff directly from farmers—cutting out the middle man—thus increasing farmer incomes by 25%. The company will also pre-pay for seeds and fertilizer as their relationship with the farmers develop, which will expand the farmers' yield as well as profits. And, instead of selling just pure teff, Love Grain makes it easy to enjoy by creating pre-made mixes and treats. This sustainable business model has already won them a 2014 IDEAS Venture Grant from MIT IDEAS Global Challenge.
Love Grain's inaugural product is their Pancake + Waffle Mix, which offers two recipes on the back, one of which is vegan. Working with the well-known gluten-free recipe developer, Sadie Scheffer (founder of Bread SRSLY, the first gluten-free sourdough bread company in San Francisco), Mauldin says, "We experimented with a bunch of different recipes—plain yogurt, milk, greek yogurt, etc, and had great fun testing different options, often recruiting friends for taste-tests—aka Sunday brunch! After about two months of dedicated experimentation in our Cambridge kitchens, we landed on our recommended recipe. My personal favorite is the vegan recipe, and I'm not even vegan." Interestingly, the non-vegan recipe calls for Greek yoghurt and seltzer water. We tried out this one at home, and the result was a unique, nutty flavor with a chewy texture similar to that of banana or pumpkin bread—it was delicious. The next teff-based product: "We've been cooking up protein bars in the Love Grain test kitchen and been getting great reviews but don't have a release date just yet," says Ahmed.
Snag two bags of Love Grain's Pancake + Waffle Mix from their website for $18.
Product photo by Nara Shin, all other images courtesy of Love Grain