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Is This the Healthiest Nut in the World? Introducing the “Fox Nut”

By Joanna Lobo
April 18, 2022

You probably haven’t heard of makhana, aka the “fox nut,” before — but there are plenty of good reasons to incorporate this delicious treat into your diet. Native to India, fox nuts aren’t actually nuts at all, but are in fact the seeds of the purple water lily. Water lilies release these seeds, which then float down to the water bed, where they are collected, cleaned, and dried until they pop, releasing a fluffy, white kernel.

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Fox nuts are a superfood snack on their own, but can also be made into a flour, and they add nutritional value and texture to everything from curries to sweets and salads. Round and white with black spots, these nuts look a lot like popcorn, but are much more nutritious. They also have as many names as they do uses: Sometimes called the gorgon nut, they are also known as makhana, lotus puff, kamal gatta, taal makhana, and phool makhana. 

The many benefits of fox nuts

They’re nutritionally dense…

Fox nuts are gluten-free and highly nutritious due to their caloric density. “Fox nuts are rich in protein, calcium, magnesium, and fiber — and low in fat as well as calories,” says Certified Holistic Nutritionist Vinita Contractor. “100g of fox nuts provides around 345 calories of energy, 9.7g of protein, and 14.5g of fiber. They also contain magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus.” 

…and packed with anti-aging antioxidants 

Fox nuts are a good source of antioxidants and anti-aging amino acids. The amino acids in fox nuts can increase blood flow, enable the production of the connective tissue, and help protect your skin. 

They make a fantastically healthy snack 

Contractor calls fox nuts the perfect weight-loss snack: “Makhanas are rich in protein, so they keep you full for longer,” she says. “They’re low in calories, contain a good amount of fiber, and minimal amounts of saturated fats.” All of these qualities make roasted fox nuts a great-tasting healthy snack if you’re trying to lose weight. They also have sedative and calming properties. 

Fox nuts can aid digestion, too

The fiber in fox nuts makes them a beneficial part of a person’s digestive health. If eaten in moderation, they improve metabolism, daily bowel movements, and relieve digestion-related issues like indigestion and constipation.

A good source of energy 

In her book Fix It With Food: Superfoods To Become Super Healthy, Kavita Devgan, MSN, writes that fox nuts contain plenty of vitamin B1, which plays a key role in nerve, muscle, and heart function, noting that not getting enough B1 can lead to chronic fatigue. And since she wrote the literal book on superfoods, we decided to interview Devgan to find out more about fox nuts. 

Fox nuts are a good fit for those with diabetes

Since they have a low glycemic index, fox nuts help maintain energy throughout the day. In fact, the GI is lower than that of rice and bread.”The low GI means food gets digested slowly. And that makes them a better bet for diabetics over other crunchy snacks (yes, even popcorn),” says Devgan. Eating fox nuts helps to manage blood sugar levels by ensuring there is a controlled release of sugar in the body. “They are a good snacking option for diabetics, but in moderation,” she adds. 

They promote heart health

Studies have found that fox nuts have cardioprotective properties that help reduce the risk of heart disease. For instance, they’re high in magnesium, which help reduce heart attacks by relaxing the blood vessels. There are studies done on animals that show its cardioprotective properties, namely that fox nut extracts protect the heart against injury. One of the risks of heart disease is hypertension, and their low sodium levels ensure there’s no sudden rise in blood pressure. 

They’re a great food for fasting

For those practicing Ayurvedic traditions, fox nuts are not a grain or cereal, so they are regarded as sattvic and acceptable food during fasts that can be eaten to provide strength when you’re otherwise abstaining, “Makhanas are an important fasting food, as a moderate helping can provide you with energy to last the entire day,” says Contractor.

How should I incorporate the fox nut into my diet?

A versatile seed, fox nuts possess a mild, almost neutral flavor. The simplest way to eat fox nuts is by roasting them with or without ghee or another high-temperature oil, then seasoning them with herbs, spices, or a tadka (a traditional form of Indian tempering). When roasted, they provide a great alternative to many high-fat and high-calorie snacks.

You can also use fox nuts to bulk up simple dishes by soaking them overnight before adding them to curries or soups. For an easy, flavorful dish, you can use fox nuts to make a nice fox nut masala: Much like tofu, fox nut’s mild flavor allows it to act as a neutral protein that works in a wide variety of contexts. 

If you’re looking for an even easier way to add fox nuts to your diet, you can utilize powdered fox nuts: You can sprinkle this nutrient-packed powder over salads and puddings, add it to your morning smoothie, or even use it as a swap for other types of flour. 

Where to buy fox nuts

Fox nuts are available on Amazon. They arrived pre-puffed, but still need to be roasted and seasoned to be enjoyed. 

Fox nuts ($10.50 for 7.05oz, Amazon)

Fox nut recipes

There are so many different ways to enjoy fox nuts, but these are a few of our favorites: one snack, one dinner option, and one dessert. 

Roasted and Spiced Fox Nuts

fox nut

Image credit: Dassana’s Vegetarian Recipes

This is a super easy recipe that takes just ten minutes to prepare and leaves you with toasty, beautifully spiced fox nuts. They’re great on their own (we’ll eat them by the handful) but they’re also a great, crunchy salad topper — and a much healthier alternative to croutons.

Paneer Matar Fox Nut Curry

Paneer Matar Makhana Curry

Image credit: Indian Veggie Delight

This is a healthful vegetarian curry that gets added bulk and nutrition from the addition of fox nuts. As the recipe author notes, you can easily substitute coconut cream for heavy cream and replace the paneer with mushrooms or tofu if you want to make this dish vegan (and arguably healthier). 

Fox Nut Kheer

Paneer Matar Makhana Curry

Image credit: Whisk Affair

As far as desserts go, this is definitely one of the more protein-packed options out there. Feel free to sub oat or almond milk for the whole milk to make this recipe vegan. For a lower glycemic index, swap out the white sugar for coconut sugar. 

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