If you detect a rumbling in the distance, it may be the sound of a new superfood coming to town: tiger nuts. What are these nuts, where do they come from, and what are their health benefits? We have all this information and more.
What Are Tiger Nuts?
Tiger nuts (sometimes spelled tigernuts) are also known as yellow nutsedge, chufa nuts in Spanish, and earth almonds, but it turns out…they are not nuts at all. Surprise! They are actually tubers, small root vegetables grown in the ground and originally cultivated in Africa by the Egyptians.
Tiger nuts are chewy in texture, wrinkly in appearance, and about the size of a chickpea. They provide a sweet nuttiness not unlike the flavoring of coconut. It’s the wrinkles that make them appear to have tiger stripes, hence the name “tiger” nuts. They’ve historically been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes, and now that modern science has caught up to this traditional tuber, we are learning more about the various health benefits of tiger nuts.
The Top 5 Health Benefits of Tiger Nuts
Tiger nuts come in three distinct varieties: brown, black, and yellow. Each variation is full of health-boosting plant compounds.
On average, they have from 2 to 7 grams of prebiotic dietary fiber per ounce, 1 gram of protein, more than double the daily recommended value of vitamin E, and antioxidant compounds that can help guard your body against damaging free radicals (which are associated with accelerated aging, heart disease, and cancer).
Germinating, or sprouting, tiger nuts has been shown to help enhance their nutrient profile, but either way you cut them (or grind them into tiger nut flour, or turn them into a nut-free tiger nut milk alternative!), nutrients like the beneficial fatty acid oleic acid are there to help improve your cholesterol levels, promote weight loss, and provide all the benefits you’d come to expect from any so-called “super” health food. Here are the details, and the science to back up those claims.
1. Blood Sugar Control
The fiber and arginine in tiger nuts both help contribute to lower and more stable blood sugar levels, which significantly reduces your risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. They even have certain compounds that can decrease how much sugar is absorbed in the gut after eating a carb-heavy meal.
Specifically, tiger nut extract has been shown to help lower blood sugar levels in animal models thanks in part to the dense fiber content in these tubers. Fiber slow down sugar absorption, which helps protect you from dangerous spikes in blood sugar that send your body into an insulin-producing panic.
Likewise, laboratory studies have found that tiger nut extract may be able to inhibit certain digestive enzymes, which keeps your body from digesting an excessive amount of consumed carbs, not unlike how medications for lowering blood sugar operate.
While human studies are still required on this emerging superfood, the early scientific findings are quite promising. It can also be noted that tiger nuts are full of the amino acid arginine, and we do know how arginine affects humans: it’s been shown to help increase both insulin sensitivity and insulin production, two vital facets of blood sugar control.
2. Digestive Aid
As a source of insoluble fiber, tiger nuts are able to lend a significant hand to comfortable digestion and GI health. How? Insoluble fiber is what’s known as prebiotic fiber (different from probiotics, which add new good bacteria to the mix). Your body can’t digest prebiotic fiber, but your existing good gut bacteria can. The good gut bacteria in your body neutralize invading viruses and bacteria and help keep certain bacterial populations that live inside you from overgrowing.
Not only does insoluble fiber (otherwise known as resistant starch) feed your micro-battalion of defenders, but it also helps bulk up your waste, allowing for comfortable bowel movements and reducing incidences of constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and gas. Even those with serious inflammatory bowel conditions cannot go without fiber for long: fiber-restricted diets are temporary, medically advised treatments. The human body needs fiber to function!
3. Immune Support
Remember insoluble fiber’s prebiotic ability to strengthen your good gut bacteria? Here is why that matters: tiger nut extract may help your immune system fight off antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
While these are early findings done in laboratory settings, studies have shown that tiger nut extracts set against Salmonella, Staphylococcus, and E. coli bacteria revealed significant antibacterial effects. Moreover another test-tube study on the cellular level revealed tiger nut extract to be effective when established antibiotics were not, a valuable piece of information in an age of antibiotic-resistant super bugs.
4. Cardiovascular Health
The heart-healthy fats in tiger nuts may help improve the flexibility of your arteries and veins, thereby reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
Thanks to the monounsaturated fats in tiger nuts, they have an amazingly similar nutrient profile to cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. Monounsaturated fats are “good” fats in the sense that they help increase your “good” HDL cholesterol levels while reducing the amount of “bad” LDL cholesterol in your blood. LDL cholesterol is the kind that builds up in and hardens your arteries, reducing circulation and increasing the risk that plaque might break off and fully clog vital blood flow pathways. By reducing the amounts of LDL cholesterol in your body, you invariably lower your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Additionally, the arginine content of tiger nuts is converted to nitric oxide in the body, a compound that helps dilate your veins and arteries, thereby lowering your blood pressure and improving your circulation. Combined, these components of tiger nuts create an incredibly heart-healthy profile.
5. Aphrodisiac Abilities
While this aspect of tiger nuts may not seem as important as, say, heart health, human sexuality is nevertheless a vital component of the species, not to mention an integral part of love, marriage, and family. Used in African and Ayurvedic (from India) traditions to promote libido, increase sperm count, and treat erectile dysfunction, tiger nuts have some scientific backing as an aphrodisiac.
This 2013 mouse study found that tiger nuts helped preserve sperm production in the subjects after heavy metal poisoning. A separate 2015 study showed that after 1 month of consuming tiger nuts, rats had increased testosterone, improved sexual activity, and shortened periods of time between matings. While human studies are nonexistent in this area (due in large part to the lack of funding afforded to scientific research in human sexuality), it’s nevertheless a long tradition with at least some early scientific backing.
The Best Ways to Eat Tiger Nuts
You can consume raw tiger nuts or cooked, combine them in cereals, salads, yogurts, or smoothies, and even add them to a trail mix or a batch of homemade granola bars. They’re softer when boiled or soaked, which allows them to be made into dairy-free ice creams. When ground they can be utilized as a gluten-free flour replacement in breads, cakes, and various other baked goods. In Spain, tiger nuts are particularly popular as the dairy-free milk horchata de chufa, and in American recipes they make for a wonderful binder in vegan veggie burgers.
Try These Tiger Tubers
So now you know: tiger nuts are not actually nuts, but instead tiny tubers (more like sweet potatoes than peanuts). They can be used in gluten-, dairy-, and nut-free recipes, and can be enjoyed as a milk alternative, a healthy ice cream substitute, and a nut-like snack.
They’re also a new addition to the list of superfoods, so-called because of their nutrient density and remarkable health profiles. Look into tiger nuts for heart health, digestive care, and immune system support, and embrace this allergen-free asset in your diet.