They aren’t actually nuts. And the only thing they have in common with tigers is their stripes. But tiger nuts — and related products like tiger nut flour and milk — are finding their way into more kitchens.
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Also known as chufa nuts, Earth almonds and earthnuts, tiger nuts have been around for centuries. Some ancient Egyptians had tiger nuts in their tombs, presumably so they could enjoy them in the afterlife.
Today, more Americans are putting tiger nuts on their grocery shopping lists — and for good reasons. Registered dietitian Gillian Culbertson, RD, LD, calls tiger nuts a superfood. “They’re low in calories and packed with nutrients,” she says. Here’s what else you need to know about this rising food star.
What are tiger nuts?
Tiger nuts are tubers, or the bulbous root of a stem. They grow underground and provide nutrients to a grass-like plant called yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus lativum), commonly found in Africa and Spain.
This ancient root has more in common with potatoes and yams than nuts. But tiger nuts are much smaller (about the size of a marble or, dare we say, a nut?) with stripes on the outside.
“Tiger nuts are extremely versatile. You can eat them raw, dried or cooked,” says Culbertson. “They have a sweet, nutty flavor similar to almonds.”
The tubers can be ground into flour, roasted for a snack or boiled and turned into milk or juice. Tiger nuts are the key ingredient in traditional Spanish horchata de chufa, a sweetened nut milk (although the more familiar Mexican horchata is made with rice).
A 1/4-cup, 1-ounce serving of tiger nuts (about 50 raw tubers) has approximately:
- 120 calories.
- 19 grams of carbohydrates.
- 7 grams of fat (mostly healthy monounsaturated fat).
- 10 grams of fiber.
- 1 to 2 grams of protein.
- 9 grams of sugar.
Are tiger nuts healthy?
Scientists haven’t done many studies on the health benefits of tiger nuts. But the existing research suggests that consuming tiger nuts and tiger nut products may be good for you. Tiger nuts may provide:
1. Essential minerals to improve bodily function
Tiger nuts may be small, but they pack a powerful nutritional punch. The nuts are high in several minerals:
- Calcium promotes stronger bones.
- Copper helps your body break down and use iron.
- Iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body.
- Magnesium regulates blood sugar, blood pressure and muscle and nerve functions.
- Phosphorous regulates nerve and muscle functions, including heart functions.
- Potassium helps control high blood pressure by maintaining healthy fluid levels inside cells.
- Zinc supports a healthy immune system, aids tissue healing and promotes the growth of healthy cells.
2. Important vitamins for overall health
Tiger nuts are also a good source of these vitamins:
- Vitamin C boosts your immune system, helping prevent infections and promote wound healing.
- Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorous needed for strong bones.
- Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant to destroy free radicals that damage healthy cells.
3. Antioxidants boost to fend off diseases
Like many plants, tiger nuts are rich in antioxidants, including vitamins C and E. “Antioxidants help prevent cell damage and may offer protective benefits against the effects of aging, as well as diseases like cancer and heart disease,” notes Culbertson. Roasted tiger nuts tend to have higher amounts of antioxidants than raw or boiled ones.
4. Healthy fats for a healthier heart
Like olive oil, tiger nut oil is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. This fat helps keep your cholesterol numbers in a healthy range, reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke. Tiger nut oil also contains vitamins and nutrients, as well as alkaloids, saponins and tannins. “These chemical compounds have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties,” says Culbertson.
5. Better digestion
Tiger nuts are high in insoluble dietary fiber. “This type of dietary fiber passes through your system undigested, helping to bulk up stools and prevent constipation,” explains Culbertson. “The fiber also helps you feel full longer, which may help you lose weight.”
Tiger nuts also have resistant starch. This type of fiber acts as a prebiotic, stimulating the growth of good bacteria that aid digestion. “Eating a high-fiber diet may help prevent colorectal cancer, constipation, heart disease and obesity,” she adds.
On the downside, the fibrous nature of tiger nuts can cause bloating and gas, especially if you have digestive disorders. It may help to increase fiber intake slowly, as well as germinating or roasting the tiger nuts to improve digestion, Culbertson suggests.
6. Improved blood sugar control
The high fibrous quality of tiger nuts is also beneficial in preventing blood sugar spikes. “Fiber slows your gut’s absorption of sugar,” says Culbertson. Tiger nuts also contain arginine. This amino acid helps keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range by increasing insulin production and sensitivity. These effects are especially helpful when you have diabetes.
7. Stronger bones
The protein in tiger nuts contains 18 amino acids, putting the tubers on par with eggs and making them a good source of plant-based protein. “Tiger nuts have essential amino acids like lysine and glycine, which you need for healthy bones, muscles and connective tissues,” says Culbertson.
8. Libido lift
Quercetin, a plant pigment (flavonoid), gives the nutsedge its yellow color. It’s also known as an aphrodisiac. Research is underway to determine whether quercetin in tiger nuts actually stimulates the libido, enhancing sexual performance.
9. Lots of food choices
Tiger nut flour is starchier than other gluten-free flour options. As a result, gluten-free breads, crackers, baked goods and pastas made with tiger nut flour taste and look better. Tiger nuts, tiger nut flour, tiger nut oils and tiger nut milks can be a great alternative for people following nut-free, gluten-free or dairy-free diets.
Tiger nuts can add a flavorful, nutritious boost to your diet. Experiment with tiger nut products on the market to see how this superfood can work for you.