The first thing you should know about tiger nuts is that they aren’t nuts—they’re tubers! Just as the peanut is actually a legume, the tiger nut is an edible tuber about the size of a marble. Harvested from the roots of a plant called Cyperus esculentus, tiger nuts get their name from the small ridges they have on their outer skin, giving them a textured, “tiger-striped” appearance.
Since tiger nuts (also called chufa or earth almonds) aren’t a grain, pseudo grain, legume, or a member of the nightshade family, they’re especially valuable to those following gluten-free, paleo, or allergen-free diets. Here’s everything you need to know about tiger nuts—from their taste, history, and health benefits.
What Do Tiger Nuts Taste Like?
Those who’ve tried tiger nuts describe them as sweet, nutty, earthy, and coconut-like—with hints of vanilla and a mild crunch. Here’s each characteristic in more depth:
- Sweet: The sweetness is mild—like that of coconuts or almonds. This makes them enjoyable to eat on their own.
- Nutty: Similar to that of almonds or hazelnuts, tiger nuts have a subtle nutty profile. But remember, they’re not a nut!
- Earthy: Similar to other root vegetables, tiger nuts have an earthy undertone that’s neither overpowering nor dominating. This unique characteristic makes them a great addition to both sweet and savory dishes.
- Coconut-like: The combination of sweetness, nuttiness, and earthiness is what gives the tiger nut a flavor profile similar to coconuts. This flavor especially shines through when tiger nuts are used to make horchata.
- Vanilla: Some people detect hints of vanilla when eating tiger nuts. This adds a layer of warmth to the tiny tuber.
- Mild Crunch: Tiger nuts are firm on the outside yet creamy on the inside. This gives them multiple uses—from snacking by the handful to adding texture to granola, flour, and baked goods.
The History of Tiger Nuts
Tiger nuts date all the way back to ancient Egypt—circa 4000 BC. They must have had a special place in Egyptians’ hearts because they took them to their tomb (literally) and depicted it through artwork and writings. In the first two rows of the wall painting below, you’ll see peasants crafting cone-shaped loaves using a mixture of ground tiger nuts and honey. This painting was found in the tomb of Vizier Rekhmire, a high-ranking ancient Egyptian official from the 15th century BC.
From Egypt, tiger nuts spread to parts of North Africa and the Mediterranean region. Aside from being an important food staple in ancient cultures, tiger nuts were used as medicine too—treating ailments related to digestion, fertility, and energy. This is what we’ll dive into in the next section.
Tiger Nut Benefits
Researchers continue to find out more and more about the tiger nut. To date, they report that it has the following nutritional and medicinal benefits…
1. Impressive nutrition profile.
Prized in ancient times, tiger nuts are making a resurgence in the modern nutrition world. And for good reason: they’re an excellent source of fiber, healthy fats, and resistant starch.
On average, one ounce (about ¼ cup) of tiger nuts has the following nutrition profile:
- Calories: 120
- Total Fat: 7 grams
- Carbohydrates: 19 grams
- Fiber: 10 grams
- Sugars: 9 grams
- Protein: 2 grams
In addition, tiger nuts contain roughly 15-20% resistant starch. Resistant starch is a type of carbohydrate that resists digestion in the small intestine and reaches the large intestine relatively intact. It’s here where resistant starch acts as a prebiotic. Prebiotics are what feed the good bacteria in your gut (aka probiotics). When probiotics are fed, your intestinal lining strengthens, nutrients from food are better absorbed, and digestion becomes better.
2. Good source of vitamins & minerals.
On average, a ¼ cup of raw tiger nuts provides:
- Vitamin E: 1-2 mg (7-14% of the daily value (DV))
- Vitamin C: 1-2 mg
- Magnesium: 40-60 mg (10-15% of the daily value (DV))
- Phosphorus: 50-70 mg (7-10% of the DV)
- Potassium: 200-250 mg (4-5% of the DV)
- Iron: 1-2 mg (6-11% of the DV)
- Zinc: 1 mg (9% of the DV)
- Calcium: 10-20 mg
Important Note: In addition to protective antioxidants, tiger nuts also contain sneaky antinutrients like phytates, oxalates, saponins, and tannins. These naturally occurring compounds are helpful for plants, but can be a hassle for humans—interfering with your body's ability to absorb nutrients.
One way to counteract this is to pre-soak or roast tiger nuts. This helps reduce the amount of antinutrients, allowing your body to utilize more of its nutrients.
3. It may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Much like olive oil, tiger nuts contain high amounts of monounsaturated fats. Foods loaded with monounsaturated fats help improve vein and artery flexibility and blood circulation, lowering your risk of heart disease.
4. It's a good source of prebiotic fiber.
Tiger nuts, along with garlic, chicory, artichokes, onions, berries, and other common foods, are a type of fiber called prebiotics. Because of the tiger nut's prebiotic qualities, it’s a food source for good bacteria in the body's gut biome. Studies show that a balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut biome leads to better physical, psychological, and emotional health.
5. It improves digestive health.
The tiger nut is a type of resistant starch. If you've ever had a Spanish horchata, you've seen the starchy consistency produced by the tiger nut when it's used to make the milky drink. Resistant starches function like a type of fiber, improving digestion and colon health. Other resistant starches include legumes, grains, seeds, certain starchy foods when they are cooked, and unripened starchy foods (like bananas).
6. It may help you lose weight and protect you against diabetes.
The tiger nut may also contribute to weight loss. Because the superfood is high in resistant starch, it passes through the small intestine without being digested and reduces sugar spikes. As a result, it may help you feel fuller longer and avoid snacking when you're trying to eat less and lose weight. Studies also suggest that tiger nuts in your diet reduce the risk of diabetes.
7. It's rich in antioxidants.
Tiger nuts are full of phytonutrients (a type of antioxidant) and phytochemicals (naturally occurring compounds that protect the cell from damage). Phytonutrients and phytochemicals help fight conditions such as obesity, high blood sugar, heart disease, gastrointestinal diseases, inflammation, and some forms of cancer.
Studies indicate that sprouting tiger nuts before consumption enhances their antioxidant levels.
8. May boost the immune system.
The antioxidants and other beneficial compounds in tiger nuts may give the human immune system an extra boost. One study showed that an extract from tiger nuts was effectively used against Salmonella in food. Other studies are finding similar results and there are also indications that tiger nut extracts may even help fight bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics.
Tiger nuts are naturally free from common allergens like gluten, grains, dairy, soy, and nuts. This makes them an excellent option for those living with dietary sensitivities or allergies. Whether used as a standalone snack, incorporated into recipes, or transformed into tiger nut milk, these tiny tubers offer a delicious way to cater to diverse dietary needs without compromising on taste or nutrition.