Despite its name, the tiger nut is actually a tuber, not a nut. A tuber is a portion of a plant's stem that usually sits beneath the surface of the soil. Tubers look similar to roots, but are generally thicker. Potatoes and the Jerusalem artichoke are both examples of tubers.
The tiger nut is the tuber of the Cyperus esculentus plant, also called the yellow nutsedge. It has a sweet, almond-like flavor. Tiger nuts were a food staple eaten in ancient Egypt. Today they are most commonly eaten in parts of Africa, Europe, and the Mediterranean.
In Spain, tiger nuts are called chufas. They are used as the primary ingredient in tiger nut milk, a beverage locals call horchata de chufa. Horchata de chufa is a cold, refreshing drink enjoyed by many during the summer months.
Tiger nuts are also grown in North and South America, where they are often used in animal feed. Recently, tiger nuts have begun to gain in popularity in the Western world as a health food.
Tiger nuts may be eaten either raw or cooked, though in Western markets they are often only available for sale in a dried or ground form rather than raw. Common tiger nut health food products include tiger nut flour, which can be used for baking, and dried raw tiger nuts, which can be eaten as a crunchy snack.
Tiger nuts have been used in traditional medicine for years, but their health benefits have gone largely unstudied by scientists. As tiger nuts are studied more, it's likely more health benefits will be uncovered due to tiger nuts' vitamin and mineral content.
Tiger nuts can help people better manage their allergies by acting as a replacement for food items that contain common allergens. For example, tiger nut flour is a gluten-free alternative to flours containing wheat. Tiger nut milk is an alternative to cow's milk, which contains lactose.
Although more research is needed, one initial study shows that tiger nut extracts have antibacterial properties. These extracts are particularly effective against E. coli, S. aureus, and Salmonella sp in a petri dish environment. The study was not a human trial, however. Future research is required to determine whether eating tiger nuts provides any protection against those particular bacteria.
Tiger nuts are a good source of fiber. Dietary fiber has been shown to improve digestion by increasing the frequency of stools and relieving constipation.
Some people claim that tiger nuts positively affect the male sex drive. However, this has yet to be proven scientifically, so this claim is speculative at best. Rat studies have determined that ingesting tiger nuts increases male sexual behavior and decreases sperm abnormalities in rats.
Tiger nuts are a source of fatty acids, fiber, and some vitamins and minerals.
Nutrients per Serving
One ounce of raw tiger nuts contains:
In both their raw and ground forms, tiger nuts contain vitamins C and B6, as well as iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and calcium.
A quarter-cup of ground tiger nuts contains:
- Calories: 120
- Protein: 2 grams
- Fat: Less than 7 grams
- Carbohydrates: 19 grams
- Fiber: 10 grams
- Sugar: 9 grams
Things to Watch Out For
Although they have a nutty taste, tiger nuts have more carbohydrates and less protein than most actual nuts. Also, they are not a low-sugar or low-fat food. People who are watching their carb, sugar, or fat intake should be mindful of the fact that tiger nuts contain a fair amount of all three.
How to Prepare Tiger Nuts
Tiger nuts may be eaten in a variety of ways. If you're trying them for the first time, consider:
- Eating dried tiger nuts raw
- Baking bread with tiger nut flour
- Preparing the Spanish tiger nut milk called horchata de chufa
- Boiling tiger nuts to enjoy as a side dish