African, S. Amer­i­can foods go against grain

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - Rasha Ali

Hey there gluten-free folks, ever heard of cas­sava and teff?

Cas­sava is a root veg­etable na­tive to South Amer­ica and grown in trop­i­cal cli­mates that can be pro­cessed into a flour. Teff is a grain from the East African re­gion that is nor­mally ground up into a flour to make in­jera, an Ethiopian sponge-like bread.

And guess what? Both cassva and teff flour, along with their true form, are gluten-free and can be used in many recipes.

Ac­cord­ing to the Spe­cialty Food As­so­ci­a­tion Trendspot­ter, con­sumer palates are mi­grat­ing to­ward more re­gional African and Latin Amer­i­can cuisines in the up­com­ing year which is why you may have seen both of these prod­ucts pop­ping up.

Although cas­sava and teff may be new to us, they have been widely used be­fore gluten-free be­came a thing.

Jorge Flores, owner of Cas­sava, a gluten-free restau­rant in Chicago, says that cas­sava flour is a sta­ple in Ecuador, where he’s from. They have a dish called cheese bread that’s made by bak­ing cheese into the cas­sava flour and is some­thing he serves in his restau­rant.

“We were just us­ing cas­sava flour be­cause that’s what we al­ways used, we weren’t try­ing to be gluten free,” Flores says. “Many coun­tries use the cas­sava flour be­cause it’s part of their cul­ture not be­cause they’re gluten free.”

Flores adds that when they first de­cided to open Cas­sava eight years ago, he wasn’t con­cerned about be­ing gluten-free, but once he saw the ex­treme in­ter­est in it, he ded­i­cated his en­tire kitchen to be­ing gluten-free.

Meaza Zemedu has a sim­i­lar story with teff flour.

Zemedu, owner of Meaza restau­rant in Falls Church, Va. says that since teff flour grows in Ethiopia, they’ve been us­ing it as a sta­ple of their food since the be­gin­ning.

“Ethiopian food with­out teff flour is not go­ing to be Ethiopian food,” Zemedu says.

She adds that although she didn’t know about its gluten-free prop­er­ties when she was back home in Ethiopia, about 15 years ago she learned about its po­ten­tial as a gluten-free option. Now, more and more peo­ple con­tact her restau­rant ask­ing about gluten-free food.

Although teff and cas­sava didn’t start off be­ing gluten-free pioneer pro­duce, both are al­ter­na­tives to wheat flour and can be used in a mul­ti­tude of recipes, not just in­jera or cheese bread.

Zemedu says that in Ethiopia, they also use teff to bake muffins, cakes and bread.

Brit­tany Mullins, the cre­ator of Eat­ing Bird Food, a blog ded­i­cated to eat­ing a whole­some diet, posted a recipe on how to make banana al­mond por­ridge for break­fast us­ing teff.

You can even try Brazil­ian-style chicken wings with cas­sava flour for a gluten-free crispy take on wings.

Both cas­sava and teff experts agree, how­ever, that you can­not ex­actly sub­sti­tute these gluten-free flours one for one with wheat flour.

“Teff flour is like a del­i­cate thing,” Zemedu says.

“You can’t use it as wheat flour, even with the in­jera there is so much process to make it right. It will not have the same tex­ture.”

Flores sug­gests us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of cas­sava and rice flour and some other gluten-free flours to make a good al­ter­na­tive – us­ing just cas­sava flour will leave you pretty dis­ap­pointed with the tex­ture. For the most part, any­thing you can make with wheat flour, you can make with cas­sava and teff.


Teff is a grain nor­mally ground up into a flour to make in­jera, an Ethiopian sponge-like bread.


Teff is an al­ter­na­tive to wheat flour.

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