Tiger nuts have suddenly become popular over the past few years, but what exactly are they?
Although their name and appearance might be deceiving, tiger nuts are small tubers that grow underground.
However, despite not being a true tree nut, tiger nuts are still sold and eaten like other common nuts.
This article provides an in-depth look at tiger nuts, their nutritional values, and their potential benefits.
What Are Tiger Nuts?
While popularly known as a nut, tiger nuts are botanically tubers that grow on a small plant called Cyperus esculentus, also known as yellow nutsedge (1).
In other words, they are not a true tree nut like chestnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and hickory nuts.
Surprisingly, one small plant can produce from hundreds to thousands of tiger nuts in just one harvest (2).
These “nuts” grow around the world from the United States and South America to Western Africa, the Middle-East, and South Asia.
Tiger nuts have long been a popular snack in Ghana, which is one of their primary growing regions in West Africa. Here, the nuts are eaten either raw as a snack, or crushed and cooked into a porridge (3).
Despite their newfound popularity in the Western world, this food has a long history. For one thing, tiger nuts are thought to have been the main dietary staple of ancient human ancestors who lived approximately 2 million years ago in West Africa (4).
Tiger nuts have a mildly sweet and nutty flavor, and they have a slightly dry texture, reminiscent of some types of almonds.
The outer part of the nut is slightly chewy, but the inside is firm and soft.
Cooking the nuts softens the overall texture and gives them a slightly sweeter taste.
Even though tiger nuts are not a true nut, they do taste fairly similar, and they share some flavor characteristics with almonds and pecans.
At present, none of the major nutritional databases have entries for tiger nuts.
Based on this research, here are the full nutritional values for tiger nuts per 100 grams:
|Saturated Fat||4.3 g|
|Monounsaturated Fat||17.9 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||2.3 g|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids||0.1 g|
|Omega-6 Fatty Acids||2.2 g|
As shown in the table, tiger nuts are quite different from other nut varieties in a nutritional sense.
In addition to their fat content, they also contain a moderately high amount of carbohydrate.
For comparison, cashew nuts contain the most carbohydrate among the more well-known nuts at around 30 g per 100 grams.
Vitamins and Minerals
Tiger nuts are a good source of micronutrients.
Based on tests analyzing three different types of tiger nut cultivars, here are the mean concentrations of vitamins and minerals they provide per 100 grams:
- Vitamin C: 15.0 % DV
- Vitamin E: 1.4 % DV
- Calcium: 1.9 % DV
- Chromium: 2.8 % DV
- Copper: 60.0 % DV
- Iron: 19.8 – 63.6 % DV
- Magnesium: 24.6 % DV
- Manganese: 48.8 % DV
- Phosphorus: 20.0 % DV
- Potassium: 14.3 % DV
- Zinc: 62.9 % DV
As shown, tiger nuts are a significant source of iron, magnesium, manganese, and zinc. These nuts also contain moderate amounts of potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin C.
Additionally, tiger nuts provide small amounts of carotenoids (5).
Due to the various compounds they contain, tiger nuts may offer several potential benefits.
A Source of Arginine
First of all, tiger nuts contain a good amount of the amino acid arginine (3).
Arginine is a precursor to a compound called nitric oxide, which can have a beneficial effect on vascular health (6).
Nitric oxide has also been investigated for its potential role in treating cases of erectile dysfunction. Randomized controlled trials in this area have demonstrated that supplementation with arginine can lead to significant improvements in males with this condition (11, 12).
On this note, animal studies show that tiger nut supplementation may have similar benefits, likely due to the arginine content. For instance, in a study featuring rats with erectile dysfunction, tiger nut supplementation upregulated nitric oxide production (13).
Tiger Nuts Are a Rich Source of Fiber
As previously shown in the nutrition profile, tiger nuts are a good source of dietary fiber.
The nuts provide around nine grams of fiber per 100 grams. This amount is similar to that found in other nuts.
Fiber can have several benefits.
One of these positive effects is slowing the postprandial (post-meal) blood sugar response to carbohydrate-containing foods (14).
A Good Choice of “Nut” For People With Nut Allergies
Most nuts taste delicious and offer a great source of essential nutrients.
On the negative side, nut allergies are relatively prevalent throughout the world, which makes nuts off-limits in no small slice of the population.
To be precise, nut allergies affect more than 3 million Americans, which accounts for over 1.1% of the population (17).
On the positive side, tiger nuts are a pseudo nut, and they do not contain the same allergens that trigger peanut and tree nut allergies. For this reason, tiger nuts are a safe nut-like choice for those who cannot eat the standard varieties.
That said, it is essential to note that tiger nut allergies do exist. Being allergic to tiger nuts is seemingly very rare, but there have been documented cases of allergy.
Looking at the research in this area, it appears that individuals with a tiger nut allergy also have allergic reactions to other fruit. In one study, three patients with a history of allergy to tiger nuts all exhibited adverse reactions to fruits, including peach, banana, melon, and coconut (18).
Tiger Nuts Contain Resistant Starch
As previously discussed, tiger nuts provide a relatively large amount of carbohydrates.
Since the nuts are technically a tuber, they also provide starch in the same way that other tubers—such as potatoes—do (19).
For those unaware of resistant starch, it is merely starch that is “resistant” to digestion in the small intestine. Therefore, instead of being broken down into glucose, the starch passes to the large intestine (colon) undigested.
Other than the (rare) potential for allergy, there are no major negative points about tiger nuts.
How To Use Tiger Nuts
There are many different ways to use tiger nuts, and the easiest way is to eat them raw.
However, it is also possible to make them into flour or milk.
Make Tiger Nut “Milk”
It is a quick and easy process to make a dairy alternative “milk” from tiger nuts.
For anyone who has ever made almond or hazelnut milk, the process is relatively similar.
There is a useful recipe available here for anyone who wishes to try.
Tiger Nut Flour
For those that enjoy baking, tiger nut flour is a gluten-free (and nut-free) flour option.
This flour is available pre-made from most large stores, but it is a simple task to make it at home too.
Once you have the flour, it is possible to use it as a 1-for-1 replacement for regular flour in most recipes.
While not a true nut, tiger nuts offer a nut-like experience and a reasonably decent nutrition profile.
However, it is a good idea to ignore the more exaggerated “superfood” claims, which are little more than marketing.
For more on nuts, take a look at the nutrition values of pine nuts.