What’s the deal with tiger nuts?
Tiger nuts are the latest superfood craze with plenty of health benefits.
Tiger nuts have been around for centuries, with origins dating back to Neolithic Egypt where they were used as food and medicine. The Spanish have been using tiger nuts to make their traditional creamy beverage, horchata, since the 18th century. Tiger nuts are also found in Ghana and Nigeria. They are popular again in many other parts of the world as well due to their many health benefits and as more people gravitate towards plant-based foods.
Despite their name, tiger nuts are not actually nuts. They are tubers like potatoes and yams, only smaller (the size of a chickpea) and edible. They have a chewy texture and get their name from the wrinkly stripes on their skin. Also known as chufa, earth almonds or yellow nutsedge, tiger nuts taste like coconut and almond.
The health benefits of tiger nuts
Tiger nuts contain a variety of nutrients including vitamins, carbohydrates, protein, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. However, they are especially highly praised for their rich fibre content, known for their prebiotic capacity, and help improve digestion and gut health. Experts warn that eating too many tiger nuts may result in bloating, cramping or unpleasant gas, especially for people suffering from digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Tiger nuts are also rich in antioxidants, which may help lower the risk of certain cancers. The amino acid arginine in them may increase insulin production, helping to keep blood sugar levels in control.
“Additionally, tiger nuts have natural sugars. They also have monounsaturated fats, which help lower LDL or bad cholesterol levels, thereby improving heart health,” says food and consumer sciences academic with the University of Pretoria Irene Darkwa.
“In Ghana and Nigeria, tiger nuts are popularly used as an aphrodisiac. Men use them to help boost sperm production – although this is yet to be scientifically proven,” Dirkwa says.
How to enjoy tiger nuts
Tiger nuts can be eaten raw with the roughage swallowed or spit out. They can be roasted, boiled or soaked.
“The food products that tiger nuts are being used to make include tiger nut milk. You can extract milk from them, add a bit of water, blend and strain it. For those who are lactose intolerant, this is a good dairy substitute. You can add cinnamon sticks to flavour it. There’s also tiger nut flour. When you extract the milk and you strain it, whatever is left can be used as animal feed or it can be dried in the oven to make flour. Oil can be extracted from tiger nut as well,” Dirkwa says.
She is currently a PhD candidate doing her research on developing cheese out of tiger nuts for Ghana, whose cheese is imported.
South Africa imports tiger nuts and, according to Dirkwa, they have a long shelf life. “If stored in a cool place, they can last up to two years,” she says.