In part one of WTF are Tiger Nuts? I discussed the basics of the botany of the Tiger Nut and in part two I nerded out a bit on the Paleolithic history of the Sedge tuber. Now, in part three, we’re going to get into the heart of things, modern man’s use of the Tiger Nut and the nutritional components.
In the last post I talked about the shaky claim that “our Paleo ancestors” subsisted primarily on Sedge tubers, but there is actually some evidence that modern man has been enjoying Tiger Nuts for quite a while.
Several archaeological sites in Egypt indicate that Chufa was grown and consumed there regularly, which isn’t that surprising given that Chufa is a relative of Papyrus. There is even an inscription in the tomb of Rekhmire that provides a sort of recipe for Tiger Nut bread.
In our current era, Tiger Nuts are used for consumption primarily in North Africa and Spain. There is a popular Spanish drink called Horchata that is traditionally made from Tiger Nuts, though many people in the US are probably more familiar with the version of Horchata made from rice.
As I said in the first part of this series, Chufa is considered to be a weed in most parts of the world, so the research on it’s nutritional components is somewhat hard to come by and is not always as thorough as one might like. But there are a couple of things that are pretty well established: Tiger Nuts are a great source of fiber and their oil composition is very similar to olive oil.
At this point I would like to make it clear that as with all research focusing on nutrient composition, there is variability and it is not always well established. This is further complicated by the fact that Chufa has not been regarded as a food in much of the world, so there is not as much research on it as there is on more widely consumed foods.
Tiger Nuts provide a lot of fiber in a very small amount of food. 1 ounce of Tiger Nuts, which is equal to 30 grams or roughly 50 tubers (which is a handful, see photo below), provides around 40% of the DV for fiber or 10 grams. This is pretty amazing given that so many people in the US do not get a lot of fiber and it takes so little to get so much from Tiger Nuts. This is not to say that I think everyone should be eating 50 Tiger Nuts a day but I think it’s good information to have.
The fiber in Tiger Nuts has been claimed to be “resistant starch” which is a type of fiber that has become rather popular in certain groups lately, primarily because it acts as a prebiotic and can feed some of the microbes in our gut. The issue of how important resistant starch is in the diet is best left to another time, but regardless I have not been able to find any study that backs up the claim that the fiber in Tiger Nuts is resistant starch (if someone has this information, please send it my way, I’d love to see it and will adjust this as necessary!)
But whether or not the fiber in Tiger Nuts is resistant, it is still fiber and that is both good and bad. Good because fiber should be a part of the human diet and bad because too much, especially at one time and if you aren’t used to it, can cause some serious gut distress – bloating and gas mainly (long-term excess fiber intake can also have some negative impacts on health - just as with anything too much can also be a bad thing.) This means that you should be careful when beginning to incorporate Tiger Nuts (or any high fiber food) into your diet; you don’t need to eat a whole hand full at a time and you don’t need to eat them every day.
Lastly, I want to touch on the fatty acid profile of Tiger Nuts. It is very high in monounsaturated fat, specifically Oleic acid (C18:1), so much so that in one study they were not able to separate Chufa oil from Olive oil. The amount of fat in Chufa makes it rather unique amongst vegetables and is another reason to consider chomping away on them from time to time.
Nutritional Caveat: As mentioned in part 1 of this series, Tiger Nuts are a rhizome-tuber. This is important because it is a vital structure for the Sedge grass. It is the part of the plant that allows it to survive from year to year; therefore it behooves the plant to protect it as much possible. Which means chemical warfare. The plant protects itself by producing chemicals that discourage its consumption. The amount and types of chemical produced by the plant vary, but vital structures are typically more well protected – in this case the Tiger Nut. Traditional processing techniques, soaking or roasting, can decrease this chemical activity. I am not including this information to discourage eating Tiger Nuts or to say that you should only eat them if they’ve been soaked or roasted, but I do think it is important to know as much as possible so that you can make an informed decision. For some people this wont have an impact at all, but for others it can make a big difference in how they feel.
I hope you try Tiger Nuts and see if they work for you. I also hope that this series of articles has given you some insight into what Tiger Nuts are and what they are not.
If you want to look into any of what I’ve said for yourself, you can find my resources here.