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Apr 19, 2000 06:44 PM

Ethiopian t'ef

  • j

Does anyone know wheter t'ef is still banned from export from Ethiopia? It used to be, I believe, that any t'ef found in this country had been smuggled in, with ramifications for the potential starvation of folks back home. Has the ban been lifted, or have people devised a way to cultivate the stuff outside the mother country?

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  1. I dunno the stuff, Jim, but a search on AltaVista turned up several US-based refs, such as (quote):

    "If you are interested to attempt making ingera you can order T'ef from Madkal Forages Inc by calling (208) 454-3330 (they grow it in Idaho)"

    A couple of other (unrelated) links also refer specifically to IDAHO, so I would guess that that might be the only place it's grown. They mention that it is STOCKED in health-food stores nationwide, though.

    BTW, there is no mention on any of these pages of any import or export ban, in either country, now or in the past.


    9 Replies
    1. re: julie id

      thanks for doing some legwork, Julie!

      I'd be surprised, though, if people selling the stuff were to say "oh, and by the way, this stuff is bootlegged, because it's illegal to take out of the country".

      But we'll see....

      1. re: Jim Leff

        Does that mean all the injera I've had in American Ethiopian restaurants were totally inauthentic? What are common substitutes for t'ef? What does the real thing taste like in comparison?

        1. re: Daveena

          I recall reading that t'ef is grown in Texas. I don't know of an export ban, but will try to find out something.

          On the subject of injera, I've always thought it was made from t'ef, but Daniel Mesfin's Exotic Ethiopian Cooking has recipes for injeras made from barley, rice, sorghum, wheat, corn and millet -- and t'ef, of course. And I recall reading about different colored injeras, which I suppose would depend on the ingredients. I believe the brownish-grey color indicates injera is made from t'ef.

          1. re: Daveena

            I'm sure the injera you've had was made from t'ef, so long as it looked very spongy and had a slightly sour, fermented flavor that was also a little nutty. T'ef is grown in the US and is pretty readily available. Apparently, it comes in three different colors with slightly different tastes. And there are a number of recipes for "injera" made with wheat flour, as well. I found someone's web page with links to info/sources for t'ef; see link below. I couldn't find any info there or on the US State Dept. country reports pages about a ban. Where did Jim Leff find out about this ban?


            1. re: Caitlin

              Again, my info is ten years old. At the time, according to my source (I believe it was food writer Cara DeSilva, but am not sure), t'ef was ONLY grown in Ethiopia, and the government was banning export (so that citizens would have a shot at not starving). It was therefore considered a Bad Thing to eat t'ef in America, since it was surely bootlegged and thus contributive to the famine situation over there.

              If t'ef's now being grown abroad (or if my info was wrong and it was always grown abroad), then terrific! Bring on the t'ef (says Leff)


              1. re: Jim Leff

                I don't know the specific period/ban you're talking of, Jim, but as an economic matter, an export ban generally wouldn't kerb starvation. Given the price levels involved, it would generally BENEFIT a country to create a cash inflow, which can then go towards producing/importing other foods in any number of manners. That is why impoverished countries like Cuba have fought for years to shake of a US embargo, and why North Korea -- facing starvation levels comparable to Ethiopia -- is KILLING ITSELF to ensure exports (even crops!) to China, Japan, South Korea, etc., and spends much of its energy trying to get into the WTO.

                I would guess that, if indeed there HAD been some kind of restriction, it must have been on the US side...a boycott for something or other. More likely (my guess), the market here was just limited enough that it was simply "hard to find" 10 years ago.

                I am open to other ideas, though. Certainly, that chart Jim Dorsch posted shows zero exports in most ANY year, except for 96-97.

                1. re: julie id

                  Ethiopia had a Communist government from the mid-'70s to early 1990s. Don't know if that would have induced a ban on Ethiopian imports to the US.

                  1. re: Jim Dorsch
                    Frank Language

                    My one question in reading this thread has been whether you guys are talking about the grain that's called "teff". That is certainly avaiable, and has been for years; I strongly suspect most or all of it sold outside Ethiopia is grown elsewhere, because I've never heard of it specifically being grown in Ethiopia.

                    Teff is also one of the super-nutritious grains (like quinoa, spelt, and amaranth), so taking it away from anyone is a crime.

                    1. re: Frank Language

                      Alternate spelling, same grain; a staple of the Ethiopian diet, most famously lightly fermented and made into injera, a spongy pancake-like bread that is used as accompaniment and utensil for eating stews(wat).

      2. I haven't found out if there's an export ban, but data at the link below indicates that for the most part, Ethiopian cereal exports have been nil in recent years.