Sometimes, the names of some foods lead you to imagine something totally different, and they often surprise you with their true origin. One of these are tiger nuts, also known as chufa, or earth almonds. Anyone would imagine a nut that looks like a tiger, but this isn’t so!
The truth is that it’s a tuber or stem, like the potato, that grows under the ground on the Cyperus esculentus plant, which is cultivated in Spain, Africa, and the Middle East. And although it may be unknown in other regions of the world, nowadays its fame has spread and people know it as a healthy food and a substitute for nuts in people with allergies.
History and Origin of Tiger Nuts
The product was cultivated in ancient Egypt from around 4000 BC. Generally, it was used for its medical value for healing purposes. A little later, when the Arab empire expanded, it was introduced into Europe.
Spain, and especially the region of Valencia, became the largest producer of tiger nuts. Its climatic conditions are ideal for cultivation.
In the United States, the tiger nut plant has been considered a weed. However, a group of experts is analyzing it as a new way to obtain fuel.
The tiger nut’s nutritional value and specific bioactive compounds depend on the type. There are black, yellow and brown varieties.
A journal on foods and medicinal plants describes it as high in starch, sucrose, and tocopherol in the yellow variants. Other varieties contain polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
According to these authors, the grams of macronutrients per 100 grams (4 oz) of tiger nut are:
- Fat: 24.91 – 28.94
- Protein: 3.3 – 4.33
- Carbohydrates: 64,73 – 69,21
Among the carbohydrates, the following stand out:
- Starch: 30.54 – 33.21
- Sucrose: 17.98 – 20.39
- Fructose: 1.6 – 3.59
- Glucose: 6.79
The most common vitamins in every 100 grams (4 oz) of tuber are the following:
- Vitamin C: 5.48 – 26.78 milligrams.
- Tocopherol or vitamin E: 149.86 – 270.56 micrograms.
- Beta-carotenes: 6.13 – 10.05 micrograms.
The most important minerals in milligrams per 100 grams are listed below:
- Iron: 3.57 – 11.44
- Potassium: 556.9 – 845.8
- Magnesium: 100.5 – 107.3
- Zinc: 1.88 – 2.7
The major fatty acids expressed in milligrams per 100 grams of total fat are as follows:
- Oleic fatty acid: 64.25 – 65.76
- Essential linoleic acid or omega 6: 10.04 – 12.39
- Total saturated: 20.65 – 22.03
- Linolenic essential acid or omega 3: 0.14 – 0.17
Tiger nut tuber contains more moisture, carbohydrates, and lipids than tree nuts. However, some experts consider the fatty acid profile to be similar to that of olive oil, avocado, and other vegetable oils.
Science has also demonstrated the antioxidant properties of C. esculentus tuber, which increases with the concentration of polyunsaturated oil in the tiger nut. The Nigerian Department of Science and Technology has shown that this germinated or roasted tuber increases its total phenol content.
Although not a seed, tiger nuts may contain anti-nutrients that reduce nutrient absorption at an intestinal level. However, some researchers have found that germination or roasting reduces these compounds.
Health Benefits of Tiger Nuts
Much is said about the health benefits of the tiger nut. Some have to do with the inflammatory process, chronic diseases, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
1. A source of antioxidants
Why are antioxidants important for health? Oxygen flows freely in the body and in this transit, it can form molecules that lose electrons, called free radicals. These radicals are very unstable and when they encounter cells that give up their electrons to them, they cause oxidative damage.
According to some authors, this damage can lead to heart, neurological and endocrine diseases and, although it isn’t yet fully proven, they could also mutate our DNA. In a recent article, it was published that tiger nuts contain many antioxidants, with a good free radical scavenging capacity.
2. Supports gut health
A meta-analysis highlighted that a high content of insoluble fiber may reduce the likelihood of constipation, as it adds bulk to the stools. The carbohydrates in tiger nuts are composed of starch and dietary fiber.
Professors Alegria and Farré compared this tuber with real nuts. They observed that its fiber content is within the normal range of nuts.
On the other hand, tiger nuts contain a type of starch called resistant starch, as it’s able to resist digestion and remain intact throughout the gastrointestinal tract. The Food Reviews International journal reports that resistant starch is fermented by beneficial intestinal bacteria.
3. May benefit heart health
The role of monounsaturated fat, such as oleic acid, on cardiovascular health has long been recognized. This type of diet has been linked to lower LDL or bad cholesterol and higher HDL or good cholesterol.
Several scientists have confirmed the beneficial effect of monounsaturated oleic fat with a lower risk of heart disease and strokes. Researchers have compared tiger nut fat to olives as a source of olive oil. Although one is a tuber and the other is a fruit, the type of fatty acids that make up the triglycerides are very similar.
Moreover, according to one study, tiger nut protein is rich in the amino acid arginine, which plays an important role in heart health. In the journal Aminoacids, they state that arginine produces a compound called nitric oxide, capable of reducing blood pressure.
4. It’s considered an aphrodisiac
The tiger nut is considered an aphrodisiac capable of increasing libido. A BMC study says that this tuber is used in the Middle East to stimulate sexual arousal in men. However, this claim is more anecdotal than scientific.
In this study, a team of doctors analyzed the sexual behavior of male rats. They found that tiger nut improved performance and increased testosterone levels.
In another study with rats, it was concluded that tiger nuts helped increase sperm count and maintained testicular integrity and sperm production. However, research on the aphrodisiac use of tiger nuts in men is inconclusive.
5. May regulate blood sugar levels in diabetics
Although there are no human studies, in laboratory animals it was found that different concentrations of tiger nut extract can help control blood sugar levels. It’s possible that the fiber content of the tuber results in slower absorption of sugar in the intestine.
Other scientists have considered Cyperus esculentus as one of the natural ingredients involved in the effective treatment of degenerative diseases. One of the reasons that support them is that, at the laboratory level, tiger nut extract can inhibit the action of enzymes that digest carbohydrates in the intestine.
On the other hand, arginine, according to the Federal University of Sao Paulo, can increase the production and sensitivity to insulin in laboratory animals with diabetes mellitus. No studies have been conducted in humans, so further research is needed.
6. Antibacterial activity
An important benefit of tiger nuts is their bacteria-fighting property. For example, research found that extracts of the tuber showed activity against pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli, S. aureus, and Salmonella.
The tuber was also part of a study that provided background information on medicinal and dietary plants that can be used against common bacterial infections. In particular, those that show resistance to the most commonly used antibiotics in less developed countries.
How can tiger nuts be included in the diet?
There are different ways to take advantage of tiger nuts. In gastronomy, it’s gaining recognition for its intense and delicious flavor. We recommend the following ways of consumption:
- With cereal, nuts, or granola: Tiger nut flakes or slices are easy to chew and can be added to your morning cereal or combined with nuts and other dried fruits.
- Whole or raw as a snack: It’s common to find raw and dried tiger nuts at the market, so you can eat them that way, as a crunchy snack. They can be found peeled or unpeeled. The whole ones have better flavor and more fiber.
- In baking: Tiger nuts can be dried and ground into a delicious flour with a very mild flavor. It’s recommended to sift it because it has a sandier texture than usual. They can be used as gluten-free flour.
- Soaked or cooked tiger nuts: If you consider that the tiger nuts are a bit hard, we recommend that you soak them, boil them, or roast them.
- Horchata de chufa: In Spain, this tuber is used to obtain the popular vegetable milk known as horchata de chufa. It’s also commonly used to make lactose-free products such as ice cream and yogurt.
Tiger nut is a tuber that can be incorporated into the list of ingredients of a healthy diet. In addition, it contains antioxidants that may prevent oxidative damage.