This Company Is Bringing Ethiopian-Grown Teff to Canada

Ethio Organics is a line of pancake mixes made from the healthy and delicious ancient grain.

Traditional meals are often a source of comfort—and that was especially true for Betti Eskedar’s daughter.

Growing up, the young Ethiopian Canadian began experiencing stomach pain, and despite multiple trips to the hospital, no one could figure out what was wrong. Eskedar’s daughter finally tried an elimination diet, methodically cutting out foods like dairy and bread to pinpoint what was triggering her symptoms. She soon discovered that the problem was gluten—and that a nutritious solution could be found in one of the staple Ethiopian ingredients Eskedar’s family enjoyed at home.

Teff is a cereal grain that has been farmed in Ethiopia for more than 6,000 years. It is used to make injera, a fermented flatbread that is naturally gluten-free and high in protein, fibre and iron.

Eskedar recalls how, in Ethiopia, friends and family would drop by, unscheduled but always welcome, to gather around food and coffee. “We shared, we ate by hand and we ate from the same platter,” says Eskedar. No matter if it was breakfast, lunch or dinner, teff was always on the menu.

When Eskedar came to Toronto 40 years ago, however, teff was hard to find. “We would make meat, lentils and vegetables, but we had to eat it with bread or pita bread,” she recalls. One Ethiopian restaurant her family frequented would make injera from whole wheat and rice flour, but the taste was never quite right.

Teff is about the size of a poppy seed and has an earthy flavour reminiscent of hazelnut. It’s an ingredient that is not only central to Ethiopian cuisine but also a critical source of income for millions of Ethiopian farmers. With growing rates of gluten intolerance and celiac disease, teff has become more popular—and large brands are cultivating teff outside of Ethiopia, in places like Australia and the United States.

In an effort to bring this beloved taste of her home to Canadian consumers, and also to support Ethiopian farmers, Eskedar partnered with friends Amira Aboubaker and Zewdi Redaey to launch Ethio Organics, a line of pancake mixes made from Ethiopian teff. The mixes can be used to make a variety of baked goods including cookies, cakes and, of course, injera. The line includes organic teff mixed with flaxseed, almond flour or oat flour.

Ethio Organics practises fair trade and partners directly with women, small business owners and farmers to ensure that their community benefits as much as possible. The trio started the venture with their own money in 2018, eventually partnering with Shopify to help grow their business.

Despite supply chain issues and the rising cost of imports, these entrepreneurs are determined to keep their margins slim to maximize the benefits for the farmers they work with. “We treat them not like just a business but like our family,” says Aboubaker. As pandemic restrictions ease, their hope is to introduce Ethio Organics into restaurants and grocery stores.

“Food is not just to fill your stomach. Food is culture. Food is how we share love,” says Aboubaker. And with Ethio Organics, these women hope to spread that love even further.

This story is part of Best Health’s Preservation series, which spotlights wellness businesses and practices rooted in culture, community and history. Read more from this series here: 

Sharing Chinese Herbal Soups and Teas, Steeped in Tradition

This Soap Brand Is Sharing the Healing Power of Inuit Tradition

This Canadian Soap Brand is Rooted in Korean Bathhouse Culture

Meet Sisters Sage, an Indigenous Wellness Brand Reclaiming Smudging

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Originally Published in Best Health Canada