What Are Tiger Nuts And Why Is Everyone So Obsessed With Them Right Now?
Published on September 22, 2021
By Aly Walansky
Like chia and amaranth before it, the tiger nut is having a major moment on this side of the Atlantic, despite having been around for literal ages: in fact, we can trace tiger nuts back to ancient Egypt, where they were such a beloved snack that some Egyptians were even buried with them. But like ancient grains, there’s a good reason to celebrate tiger nuts right now — this versatile, gluten-free, Paleo-friendly ingredient isn’t just tasty, it’s also packed with minerals and vitamins, and can even improve your gut health. We spoke with Kara Landau, RD, founder of Uplift Food, and Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com, to help us learn more about this rising rockstar of the (both new and ancient) food world.
What Are Tiger Nuts?
Although tiger nuts are called nuts, this superfood is actually a tuber, like Jerusalem artichokes and sweet potatoes, which is why it’s absolutely loaded with fiber. Tiger nuts are easy to recognize: their exterior really does resemble a tiger’s stripes. They’re also rather delicious, and have a sweet, nutty flavor that may remind you of coconut or almonds.
According to Landeau, tiger nuts are great both raw and cooked, and they’re incredibly versatile: an easy snack food, they can also be ground down into a flour, or used as a base to make a plant-based, nut-free milk (aka a horchata). Tiger nuts can be boiled, roasted, enjoyed raw, or even juiced, and they’re a great option for anyone looking for both grain- and nut-free alternatives.
Benefits of Tiger Nuts
Tiger nuts have been shown to have some pretty significant digestive benefits. “They are rich insoluble fiber, known to help prevent or alleviate constipation,” says Taub-Dix. But as with all foods high in fiber, add them to your diet slowly to prevent gas and bloat, which can especially be an issue for those with digestive issues or IBS.
There’s also some evidence that tiger nuts can be successful in regulating blood sugar. “The fiber-rich tiger nuts may also help stabilize blood glucose levels, thereby helping to keep diabetes in check,” says Taub-Dix. “And aside from their fiber content, they support heart health, since they are rich in arginine.” said Taub-Dix. They’re also a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins C and E, so these little guys are definitely nutrient-dense.
Now that many people are looking to limit gluten, refined carbs, and sugars, tiger nuts’ adaptability and mild flavor make it a great substitute for refined wheat flour and other ingredients. However, in order to get the full benefit of the tiger nuts’ prebiotic value, they should be consumed raw, according to Landau.
“Tiger nuts are a gluten- and grain-free option, and offer gut-healthy prebiotics,” says Landau. “It is important to note that once tiger nuts are baked, much of the prebiotic resistant starch that is commonly listed on nutrition facts panels as fiber will no longer be present, and the resistant starch will convert to a regular carbohydrate that the body can metabolize and attain energy from.”
So if you’re using tiger nut flour in baking in lieu of refined flour, this is a solid nut-free, gluten-free, grain-free choice, but you may not be receiving all the tiger nuts’ prebiotic value.
How to Use Tiger Nuts
One thing to note: while tiger nuts are great sources of prebiotic fiber and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, they don’t have a ton of protein. As a point of comparison, they have just one gram of protein per ounce, compared to six grams of protein per ounce of almonds. So to create a snack with balanced macros, we’d recommend incorporating them with a protein source — just as you’d pair a few slices of apple with a little peanut butter. Fortunately, that’s hardly difficult to accomplish: tiger nuts are great simply tossed into a trail mix, but they’re also a a key ingredient in Paleo-friendly recipes both sweet and savory, like these tiger nut pancakes with lemon blueberry sauce, tiger nut flour tortillas, and tiger nut fried shrimp.
Tiger Nut Milk
Tiger nut milk, aka horchata, is a popular drink that originated in Valencia, Spain, and has become popular in many other countries: in the Americas, a variation made with rice instead of tiger nuts is the most popular. It has a sweet flavor and is both nut and dairy-free, giving it lots of nutritional options.
“Similar to many other nut-based ‘mylks,’ tiger nut milk is made by soaking the tiger nuts with water, and typically has sugar added to it to create a smooth and tasty beverage,” said Landau.
We like this tiger nut milk recipe by Alpha Foodie, which is a super simple dairy-free milk alternative.
Where To Buy Tiger Nuts
Because of their amazing versatility, there are a lot of options: tiger nuts are available raw, ground to a flour, etc. Whether you want to usie tiger nuts for gluten-free baking, a healthier breading when oven-frying, or to create a tiger nut milk for smoothies or horchatas, there are lots of options. Here are some of our faves:
Ideal for gluten-free, Keto- and Paleo-friendly baking, this blends beautifully with almond flour to create a good balance of fiber and protein. One promising review: “I’m an amateur baker and use tigernut powder/flour frequently for my paleo brownies. I’ve been using Organic Gemini Tigernut for a while but when the price increased on their flour, I decided to give Anthony’s a try. I’m happy I did because Anthony’s was much finer and baked perfectly in my recipe. Happy to save a few bucks and get a higher quality product.”
Aside from having just about the cutest label we’ve ever seen, Paleo Tiger makes an extremely delicious nut-free peanut butter alternative with just three ingredients: tiger nuts, avocado oil, and coconut oil. “Very good flavor (like pureed German speculaas/Biscotti cookies). I eat this with apple slices and cinnamon sprinkled over it. It has not set off symptoms while on my AIP diet and the thinner consistency is actually really nice over fruit,” as one reviewer puts it.
While you can enjoy these right out of the back, you can also soak them in water to make them less chewy — unless that’s something you find you enjoy. “What I didn’t expect is how much I like the chew factor. I get a lot of molar satisfaction working to break down the fibers. I know for sure I have strengthened my jaw muscles,” one reviewer says.
Tiger Nut Horchata
This traditional Valencian horchata is made with tiger nuts. It’s as simple as making a tiger nut milk out of filtered water and tiger nuts that are blended, but with the addition of sugar, a bit of salt, and some cinnamon. (For anyone who is avoiding refined sugars, you can easily toss a date or two in the blender instead).
And for those who just want to enjoy the horchata without the DIY component, we see you. Check out this option:
This is the real deal. “Tastes just like I used to drink it while attending school in Spain in the 70s,” according to one reviewer.