If you’ve never heard of tiger nuts, you’re not alone. Tiger Nuts (aka nookon, chufa, Cyperus esculentus lativum, or earth almonds) are neither animals nor nuts. Instead, they are tubers like potatoes or yams. Yet, they’re only the size of a peanut and are eaten more like nuts. They have a slightly sweet flavor that’s somewhat like a mixture between coconut, chestnuts, almonds, and pecans, but their texture is more like hazelnuts.
Archaeologists have unearthed evidence that tiger nuts have been around for thousands of years and were even used in ancient Egypt, where they were used as both food and medicine. For centuries, they’ve also been consumed by Native Americans as well as by people in Spain (as the traditional ingredient for chufa horchata). Today, tiger nuts are produced widely in Africa for their amazing nutrition.
What Are Tiger Nuts?
Tiger nuts are valued as a rich source of concentrated energy, as they are rich in healthy fats and resistant starch. They can be eaten fresh, semi-dried, fully dried, roasted, as a milk alternative, and nut oil. They’re also made into gluten-free flours, they’re included in granola and nut mixes, and they’re also used to top cereals, smoothies (and smoothie bowls), salads, and yogurts. They may also be used as binders for veggie burgers.
These little tubers are not only low in calories and high in fiber, but they provide nutrients like phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, and vitamins C and E. Nutritionally, a one-ounce serving provides around:
- 120 calories
- 10 grams fiber
- 7 grams fat
- 1 gram protein
They’re also loaded with antioxidants and been tabbed by many as a superfood.
Tiger Nuts Health Benefits
The potential tiger nuts health benefits include:
1. Improved digestion. Tiger nuts are perhaps best known as a great source of resistant starch, which is a type of undigested carbohydrate that gets fermented by gut bacteria (like a prebiotic fiber) and can promote digestion and gut health.
In addition, tiger nuts can provide enzymes like catalases, lipases, and amylases, which help your digestive system break down foods. This, in turn, may help reduce gas, indigestion, and even occasional diarrhea. 1
If you haven’t been eating a lot of fiber, though, remember to start slowly. Because tiger nuts are so rich in fiber, they can cause gas and bloating if you aren’t accustomed.
2. Decreased blood sugar levels. Because of their high fiber content, tiger nuts may also help reduce blood sugar by slowing the absorption of carbohydrates in the gut. Tiger nuts may also help “block” the absorption of carbohydrates. While animal and test-tube studies have supported this hypothesis, human studies are still needed to see if the effect is significant. 2
3. Improved insulin sensitivity. Speaking of blood sugar management, tiger nuts also provide L-arginine, an amino acid that may help increase insulin production, sensitivity, and blood sugar control. 3 Arginine is also used by the body to make nitric oxide, a compound that helps blood vessels dilate, which may improve blood pressure. 4
4. Improved heart health. Similar to olive oil, tiger nuts are high in monounsaturated fats, 5 which are linked to improved cholesterol levels as well as a decreased risk from heart disease, heart attack, and strokes. In addition, research suggests tiger nuts may support improved blood circulation.
5. Protect against infections. While more research is needed, small studies have found that tiger nuts may be useful in fighting several types of bacterial infections and promoting a stronger immune system. 6, 7
Are There Any Downsides of Tiger Nuts?
While tiger nuts are rich in nutrition, they also contain “antinutrients” like phytates, oxalates, saponins, and tannins. This may diminish how well the nutrients are absorbed in the gut. Fortunately, either roasting or sprouting them can combat this problem, helping decrease antinutrients and making the nutrients in tiger nuts easier to absorb.
And because tiger nuts are so rich in fiber, if you currently are not eating much fiber, remember to add them gradually to prevent gas or bloating.
That being said, these little superfoods are a welcome addition to just about any diet due to their hearty nutrition and impressive potential health benefits!