WTF are Tiger Nuts? (Part 1: Botanical Basics)

WTF are Tiger Nuts? (Part 1: Botanical Basics)

WTF are Tiger Nuts? (Part 1: Botanical Basics)

Tiger Nuts aka Chufa, Yellow Nut Sedge, and Earth Almond

You may have heard of Tiger Nuts, but more than likely you haven’t. I have a sneaking suspicion however that Tiger Nuts are going to start showing up more and more.

I know that there are some pretty wild claims out there regarding Tiger Nuts, and as with most things, some are true and some are less than true. I am going to try to give y’all a brief primer since I’m a bit concerned that the growing popularity of Tiger Nuts could lead to some even more wild claims and some great misunderstandings about their incorporation into the diet. And, because I think that any new darling of the food world deserves proper understanding, this will be a three part series.

Before I get into the whole break down, let me just say: Tiger Nuts are another whole food that we can incorporate into our diet. I happen to like the taste and find them to be a very convenient snack to carry around. I also know that if I eat too much, they will wreak havoc on my gut.

I’m not going to lie; there was a time I was so into Tiger Nuts that there are people who refer to me as “Tiger Nuts” to this day. But at this point you’re probably ready for me to answer the question: WTF are Tiger Nuts?!?!?!

Let’s begin with the basics. Tiger Nuts have the texture of coconut meat and the taste of almonds. They are a bit hard to bite into if not soaked first and require some chewing. When toasted they take on a deeper flavor with a hint of vanilla.

Tiger Nuts are not nuts at all. They are a type of rhizome-tuber from a sedge plant, which is a grass. Chufa grass is found widespread throughout the world. In the US it is generally considered a weed, but in other parts of the world, like Spain, it is cultivated as a crop.

Ok, so now we know that Tiger Nuts come from a grass, and that they are a rhizome-tuber. So what’s a rhizome-tuber? It’s an underground part of the plant that it uses for storage and to send off new roots and shoots. Rhizomes and tubers are common in food, with ginger being an example of the former and potatoes the latter. The difference is best explained by a botanist, but from what I can tell they are frequently confused and have to do with the way the plant uses the structure. But the basics as I understand them are that Tiger Nuts are tubers that are formed from the rhizome of Chufa. The tubers can survive the cooler temperatures of winter, even when the rest of the plant dies off, including the rhizome, and resprouts in the spring. A single Chufa plant can produce hundreds, if not thousands, of tubers.

"Chufa". Via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chufa.jpg#/media/File:Chufa.jpg

"Chufa". Via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chufa.jpg#/media/File:Chufa.jpg

Are you thinking, why the heck should I care about what part of the plant Tiger Nuts are? Well, it’s because the part of the plant determines what nutrients (and defense mechanisms) are in it. We’ll delve into the nutrients in the last part of the series, but next time I’m going to cover some of the history of Tiger Nuts as a food and whether or not it really was eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors.

For those interested, you can find a quick and dirty list of my resources here. I'll admit it's not the best bibliography I've ever written but hopefully it provides some reading suggestions if you want to look a bit further.