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What are tiger nuts and why are they suddenly everywhere? 

At first glance, tiger nuts might look like wrinkly brown garbanzo beans. But don’t let first impressions fool you, because they’re neither beans nor nuts. They are, however, a high-fibre vegan snack that’s currently trending in the health food scene. Curious? Ahead, learn about tiger nuts, plus what to know if you’re interested in trying them.

What Are Tiger Nuts, Anyway?

Despite their name, tiger nuts aren’t actually nuts. Rather, they’re tiny root vegetables or tubers (like potatoes and yams) that thrive in tropical and Mediterranean regions of the world, according to a 2020 research article published in The Scientific World Journal. That said, the marble-sized veggies — which, BTW, are also known by various other names, including chufa (in Spanish), yellow nutsedge, and earth almonds — are grown around the globe.

Oh, and here’s the kicker: Although tiger nuts aren’t nuts, they do boast a sweet, nutty flavour that’s reminiscent of almonds or pecans, shares Jenna Appel, MS, RD, LDN, registered dietitian and founder of Appel Nutrition Inc. The tubers also pack a nutritional punch, offering ample amounts of potassium, calcium, iron, vitamin E, and magnesium, according to a 2015 article published in the Journal of Analytical Methods in Chemistry. Research shows that tiger nuts are also rich in unsaturated (aka “good”) fats, which have been found to lower blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

And when it comes to keeping, err, things running smoothly, tiger nuts have got you covered. Not only are they full of fibre (which can help control blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol levels, and support bowel health), but they also contain resistant starch, a type of carb that can’t be broken down by your digestive enzymes. Instead, it behaves a lot like fibre and, according to registered dietitian Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut, thereby helping food move through your system. This prebiotic power can also promote an overall happy and healthy gut, which, in turn, can help maintain a range of bodily functions, including immunity, cholesterol regulation, and nerve cell production, explains Feller.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: That’s great and all but how much fibre, protein, [insert nutrient here] can there really be in such a small package? Apparently, quite a bit. Ahead, a 28 gm serving of sliced tiger nuts:

  • 150 calories
  • 2 grams protein
  • 7 grams fat
  • 19 grams carbohydrate
  • 10 grams fibre
  • 6 grams sugar

 

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So, Why Are They So Popular These Days?

While these might’ve only recently popped onto your radar, the root veggies are not exactly new — far from it, actually. In fact, tiger nuts were apparently such a beloved ingredient that they were entombed and discovered with buried Egyptians from the fourth millennium BC to the fifth century AD, according to research published in Economic Biology. Translation: These tubers have been a fan favourite for a while.

They’re also considered staple ingredients in various cuisines, including Mexican and West African food, says Feller. In Spain, tiger nuts have been used for hundreds of years (since the 13th century, according to NPR) to make a cold, creamy beverage known as horchata de chufa (aka tiger nut milk) that’s often enjoyed in the summer.

Recently, “tiger nuts have gained attention because of their excellent nutrient profile,” says Feller. Their high fibre content is particularly attractive, as it’s particularly beneficial for gut health — an area of wellness that people have been placing more focus on, says Appel. ICYMI above, tiger nuts contain fibre that the body can’t digest. So, it “travels to [the] lower digestive tract, where it essentially becomes a food source to help healthy bacteria grow,” says Appel. Plus, “consumers are looking for more natural, whole food options for snacks, rather than [processed] foods,” adds Appel. And guess what? Tiger nuts fit the bill — plus, they’re also naturally vegan and gluten-free too, she says.

And need not forget about the fact that tiger nuts can somewhat easily be transformed into a frothy, milky beverage, which you can snag in small cartons online or whip it up yourself by soaking tiger nuts for 24 hours, blending them with water and sweeteners and flavourings (e.g. cinnamon), then straining the mixture through a sieve, according to Spanish food blog, Spain on a Fork. The result? A dairy-free drink that’s allowed the tuber to join the ranks of plant-based milk alternatives, which are already trending in the food space, says Appel. What’s more, since they’re not actually nuts, tiger nut milk or horchata de chufa is ideal for those plant-based people with nut allergies, notes Feller.

How to Choose and Eat Tiger Nuts

Tiger nuts are typically sold in packaged dried form, which you can buy from supermarkets, speciality health food stores, or online retailers, says Appel. “When buying packaged tiger nuts, look for products that only contain tiger nuts or tiger nuts with minimal other ingredients,” such as sugar, salts, and fats, suggest Feller. Dried versions are very hard right out of the bag, so you’ll want to soak ’em in hot water for an hour(ish) until they’re chewy and meaty before eating. From there, you can enjoy the snack like you would actual nuts: on their own, in trail mix, or on top of oatmeal, says Appel.

As for fresh tiger nuts? You might be able to find them at local health food stores or farmer’s markets, says Appel. In this case, choose those that are brown and free of dark spots, as this might mean they’ve gone bad, she explains. From there, go ahead and enjoy just as you would with packaged versions.

Tiger nuts “can also be found as flour, spreads, and oils,” notes Feller, who adds that tiger nut flour can be a great gluten-free baking substitute — just make sure it “was made in a facility that doesn’t process wheat and contains the certified gluten-free label,” she says. But the high fibre content of tiger nut flour might make it difficult to sub for all-purpose flour at a 1:1 ratio, says Appel. So, it’s likely best to follow a recipe designed for the ingredient such as these tiger nut flour chocolate chip cookies by The Toasted Pine Nut to ensure the other components are used in the correct proportions.

One last note: If tigers nuts land a spot in your weekly menu, you’ll want to avoid eating too many at once. Tiger nuts are rich in fibre, which may cause GI discomfort (think: gas, bloating, diarrhoea) in some people when eaten in high amounts, says Feller. To avoid these issues, drink plenty of water and increase your intake slowly, recommends Appel. This way, you can have your tiger nuts and eat them too.

This story first appeared on www.shape.com

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