Though the importance of agriculture within Ethiopia has already been emphasized, certain crops have particular cultural significance. These endemics crops are not only the directly responsible for some of the delicious foods considered essential to Ethiopian cuisine even more they has sprung around them cultural values which play a marked role in Ethiopian society.

Teff and Injera
Among the cereals teff is one of the important it is the main ingredient in Ethiopia’s staple food injera. Teff species is an endemic cereal of the Ethiopian highlands belonging to a family which contains more than 300 species, although only teff can be cultivated.

Teff is a straight stalked grain measuring about 40 to 80 centimeters long containing tiny very light grains whose size can only be measured in millimeters varing from white to violet reddish; brown to greenish grey white. The grain is bare which makes grinding easier and results in a higher quality flour. today teff is grown on the central high plateau of Shoa, Gondar and Gojam.

Ethiopia has more than 2 million hectares of teff crops slightly more than a third of land devoted to cereal crops sowing takes place at the beginning of the rainy season between june and july and harvesting occurs between December and January.

Teff flour is a kind or giant crepe that accompanies all Ethiopian meals. Despite its excellent nutrients Ethiopia is the only country which uses teff as food 70 to 80% carbohydrate and 2% fat in addition it is rich in iron about 25to100 mg per 100 grams.

Enset – False Banana and Kocho
Kocho is made with enset. Kocho is a kind of square cake rich in carbohydrates, calcium and iron, a staple for a third of the Ethiopian population. This substance has near miraculous properties- it is capable of being preserved for up to 20 years. The cultivation of enset and everything which revolves around it has generated an entire culture especially for inhabitants of Gurage and Sidamo.

Enset is also known as the false banana or Abyssinian banana. This tree originally from Africa and of the Musacea family appears to be a banana tree. The enset plant can reach up to 10 metres (33 feet) tall with a broad trunk base the central nerve of the stalk is prominent and reddish colored.

A difference from the banana tree is where it grows. While the real banana tree prefers hot regions below2,000 metres (6,500 feet), enset is present at altitudes up to 3,000 metres (6,500-10,000 feet), on slopes with well-drained, volcanic soils.

It is not known where the plant originated, how it was first cultivated or when it spread vestiges have been found in Upper Egypt and Uganda Today it is also grown in other parts of Africa, as well as in China, India and Southeast

The coffee grown in Ethiopia today is the same as that which grew in the wild back when it was first discovered and began its journey towards the Arab countries.

Coffee in English café in Spanish café in French caffe in Italian kaffee in German but buna in Amharic travelers such as the Scottish explorer James Bruce or the Italian geographer Antonio Ceechi have speculated that the name could have come from the region where coffee grew wild in the province of Kafa.

This idea was accepted by later travelers and has been widely circulated in tourist literature but diverse studies show that the name could have come from the Arab word qawa which was first used for wine and later referred to the brew made from coffee seeds.

One thing about which there is no doubt is that coffee originated in the tropical highlands of southwest Ethiopia where it grows wild. However, the false belief about the Arab origin of coffee is understandable.

In his book Eating the Flowers of paradise, Kevin Rush by describes chat as a plant with green leaves, cultivated throughout Eastern Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula.

Chat is a bush with a straight, slim trunk, whitish bark and good quality wood the elliptical leaves measure between 5 and 10 centimeters long and up to 4 centimeters. Cuttings are planted in previously irrigated seedbeds until August of the next year when they are replanted. Young leaves are the most valuable part of the plant because they contain the greatest concentration of stimulants. They are the most pleasant to chew. Chat has a very bitter taste.

Many legends are told about the discovery of chat some of which are very similar to those about the discovery of coffee one legend tells of a herdsman who took his goats to graze in an area where there were chat plants when his goats chewed the leaves they become more nervous than usual.

So the herdsman tried them and discovered that he could not sleep and that his mind becomes more agile causing him to meditate. At the same time because he was awake his prayers could be extended longer. He decided to tell a group of monks who lived nearby, thus spreading the discovery of the plant and its properties.

The origin and spread of chat remains a mystery though several dates are cited for chat’s arrival in Yemen from Harar. None have precisely documented proof.  Chat is hardly known outside some African countries and the Arabian peninsula which could be because its active chemical elements deteriorate rapidly and a dried leaf infusion has fewer alkaloids than that of fresh leaves.

In Ethiopia chat plantations cover large areas of land; especially in the Hararghe region and Dire Dawa on the route from Dire Dawa to Harar whole slopes are cultivated on terraced levels.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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