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What Exactly Are Tiger Nuts And What Do They Taste Like?

Person holding tiger nuts
Person holding tiger nuts - David Ramos/Getty Images

Tiger nuts have been eaten by humans for millennia. In some parts of the world, including countries in North and West Africa, tiger nuts remain a commonly consumed food. However, they are a relatively niche product in the United States despite the plant -- a notorious weed -- being prolific in the American South. In fact, many Americans only became aware of tiger nuts when they rapidly gained a reputation as a so-called superfood during the mid-2010s.

Thanks to their gluten-free, nutrient-rich nature, tiger nuts have become an integral part of many diets, particularly the paleo diet. The claims concerning tiger nuts' impressive nutritional profile -- and society's continued fixation on wellness -- have led to many Americans being interested in consuming tiger nuts even if they don't know exactly what they are or how they taste.

Those searching for this information need look no further as the following ingredient guide covers everything you need to know about tiger nuts. This includes what tiger nuts are, where to buy them, and how to cook with them. Whether you're following a paleo diet or not, the following information is worth knowing.

Read more: 12 Vegetables And Fruits That Used To Look Very Different

What Are Tiger Nuts?

Cupful of tiger nuts
Cupful of tiger nuts - Jorge Lebron/Shutterstock

Tiger nuts -- also known as chufa or earth almonds -- are the tubers of sedge, a type of grass(Cyperus esculentus). Sedge is considered a weed; it is a prolific grower and has established itself in landmasses across the globe including Africa, Europe, and both North and South America. There are many different varieties of sedge, some of which do not produce tiger nuts at all. Amongst those that do, there are significant variations in tuber size although most that reach the American market are about the size of garbanzo beans.

Tiger nuts have been eaten by humans and our ancestors for thousands of years. The tubers were a common food in Ancient Egypt and were the main food source for hominins, an ancestor of modern humans that lived over 1 million years ago. As they were then, tiger nuts are harvested by digging up the plant and removing the tubers from among the roots. They can be eaten fresh but are commonly dried before being sold and consumed.

Where Are Tiger Nuts Grown?

Farmer in tiger nut field
Farmer in tiger nut field - Mediterranean/Getty Images

Once established, sedge makes it difficult for other plants to flourish. For this reason, many American farmers detest tiger nuts and view sedge as a weed. What's more, the plants are not highly profitable for reasons highlighted to NPR by scientist Michael Defelice: "It's not a great volume producer. You wouldn't get a lot of food per acre. That's why it remained a niche product." For those reasons, commercial tiger nut farming is limited in the U.S.

While tiger nut farming is not common in the U.S., other countries farm the tuber intensively. Spain is one of the world's largest tiger nut producers, producing 5.3 million kilograms of the tuber annually. Tiger nuts are also farmed across West and North Africa in countries such as Mali, Togo, and Niger. In these countries, tiger nut production can be reliant on heavy chemical usage. Organic tiger nuts, which are grown without the use of chemicals or fertilizers, take much longer to grow. Consequently, they are sold at higher prices.

As sedge is an extremely aggressive and invasive plant, the normal practice is to completely burn all the crops before digging up the tubers. The harvested tiger nuts are then washed and slowly dried in a months-long process that reduces the tuber's water content to around 11%.

What Do Tiger Nuts Taste Like?

Horchata and tiger nuts
Horchata and tiger nuts - Yasuhiroamano/Getty Images

It's important to point out that not all tiger nuts taste the same. Where they are grown and how they're processed greatly affect their flavor. For example, peeled tiger nuts tend to have a slightly sour aftertaste that is not present in unpeeled products. That being said, the flavor of raw tiger nuts can be broadly described as mild, sweet, creamy, and slightly earthy. Some people claim the flavor is akin to a combination of almond and coconut.

While an inoffensive flavor makes tiger nuts widely appealing, it is the tuber's unique texture -- a crisp exterior that contrasts with a soft interior -- that tends to be their biggest draw. Tiger nuts are also fibrous and require a lot more chewing than other similarly sized foods. The tuber's texture is somewhat softened if raw tiger nuts are soaked in water, boiled, or roasted before eating.

Tiger Nuts Vs. Almonds

Tiger nuts on wooden board
Tiger nuts on wooden board - 4kodiak/Getty Images

Tiger nuts are often compared to almonds, but unlike almonds, tiger nuts are not actually nuts; they are tubers. This affects how the two foods are both farmed and harvested. It also means they have different characteristics. For example, tiger nuts have much higher levels of carbohydrates when compared to almonds. Other nutritional differences abound with tiger nuts containing less fat and calories than almonds. They also boast higher amounts of fiber and natural sugars.

Despite being fundamentally different foods, tiger nuts and almonds are used in similar ways. This is largely because they are processed into an almost identical range of products. Almonds and tiger nuts are both used to make plant-based milks, gluten-free flours, flaked products, nut butters, and are also sold whole. These products can often be used interchangeably as the two foods both have a sweet and nutty flavor.

One of the most popular tiger nut products is tiger nut flour. This product is often used in baking as it carries many characteristics of almond flour while also boasting tiger nut's impressive nutritional profile. What's more, it's suitable for those with nut allergies, as was highlighted to Forbes by plant-based chef Anne-Marie Leach: "I made great use of tiger nut flour as the personal chef on a Yoga Wellness retreat in Costa Rica. I love the similarities to almond flour when baking, as well as the fact that it's gluten-free, nut-free, and grain-free."

What Tiger Nut Products Are There?

Tiger nut in various forms
Tiger nut in various forms - Y. A. Photo/Shutterstock

Tiger nuts are sold in several distinct forms, including whole, flaked, as a flour, as a milk, and as an oil. Each of these has its own characteristics and uses. Raw, whole tiger nuts are often eaten as a snack, although they can be cooked and incorporated into a variety of dishes. On the other hand, flaked tiger nuts usually accompany breakfast foods such as yogurt and muesli, as the flakes are much easier to break down than whole tiger nuts.

Tiger nut flour is used in baking to produce gluten-free pie crusts and cakes, in the same way that almond flour is used. Tiger nut milk is also extremely versatile and can be used in any scenario where other plant-based milks are. As a bonus, tiger nut milk often contains fewer sweeteners than other plant-based milks as its natural sugar levels make such additions unnecessary.

Tiger nuts can also be turned into an oil. The amber-colored liquid carries the tuber's natural sweet, nutty flavor and is celebrated for its high levels of vitamin E. The smoke point of tiger nut oil ranges between 330 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, making it suitable for most cooking processes, although many people prefer to use it in raw applications such as making vinaigrettes.

How To Cook With Tiger Nuts

Soaking tiger nuts
Soaking tiger nuts - EGHStock/Shutterstock

Raw, whole tiger nuts can be cooked in a variety of ways, including through boiling and roasting. While making for an interesting snack, these preparations are not the most popular means of using tiger nuts in the kitchen. Instead, tiger nuts are most commonly used to make horchata de chufa, which has been a Valencian delicacy since the 13th century. Making horchata de chufa is easy, tiger nuts are soaked, ground, and then mixed with water and strained. This beverage is often served alongside fartons, a type of sweet bun.

Tiger nut milk is perhaps the most versatile of all tiger nut products. It can be used in a variety of recipes, as Nutritional Therapist Eve Kalinik explained to Get The Gloss: "You can make plenty of delicious recipes [with tiger nut milk]. Add to porridge, blend into a frappe or just drink straight up! And you can get the powder or flour which can increase your repertoire further."

As Kalinik mentioned, tiger nut flour is also extremely versatile. It can be used as a substitute for regular flour in baking to produce rich, gluten-free bakes including pancakes, cakes, and muffins. What's more, its nutty flavor also lends it to being used in savory doughs, including those used for pizza bases.

Where To Buy Tiger Nuts

Tiger Nuts USA product
Tiger Nuts USA product - Tiger Nuts USA

Although they are not a hugely common food in the U.S., tiger nuts are available at several major grocery stores including Walmart and Whole Foods. These stores generally stock a range of tiger nut products including both whole and sliced options. Some health food stores also stock tiger nuts as do fishing stores; tiger nuts are a popular carp bait. However, it is important to note that some tiger nuts sold in fishing stores are not suitable for human consumption. Only products that are clearly marked for humans should be purchased and eaten.

Buying direct from specialist tiger nut companies is often the easiest and most cost-effective way of purchasing a variety of tiger nut products. One of the companies that's at the forefront of America's tiger nut industry is Tiger Nuts USA. This company imports tiger nuts from Spain and distributes them across America. As an industry leader, Tiger Nuts USA stocks a range of tiger nut products, many of which are certified organic and non-GMO. Products can be shipped to locations throughout the country. Several companies produce tiger nut milk including aMYLK. This company sells both regular tiger nut milk and a tiger nut version of eggnog.

Nutritional Information About Tiger Nuts

Tiger nuts drying
Tiger nuts drying - David Ramos/Getty Images

Tiger nuts are celebrated for being highly nutritious. A large part of this reputation is down to the tuber's high fiber content, which stands between 4 to 10 grams per one-quarter cup serving. The large range is due to differing processing methods. For example, peeled tiger nuts contain about a third less fiber than unpeeled ones.

It's not just the quantity of fiber that makes tiger nuts so healthy, but the type too. This was explained by Registered Dietitian Maya Feller in an interview with Forbes: "Tiger nuts are lauded for their high resistant starch fiber content. Resistant starch fibers are loved for their prebiotic capacity. These fibers pass through the GI undigested and are thought to reduce blood sugar spikes and aid in satiety."

Tiger nuts are deemed healthy as they contain a high amount of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. The food's macronutrients are also impressive with a quarter cup serving of tiger nuts containing around 130 calories, 7 grams of fat, and almost 20 grams of carbohydrates. However, the tubers are not high in protein.

How To Store Tiger Nuts

Tiger nuts in a container
Tiger nuts in a container - Miguel AF/Shutterstock

Raw, whole, or flaked tiger nuts are usually sold after being dried. This makes them extremely long-lasting; Tiger Nuts USA claims its raw, dried products last indefinitely if unopened and left in a cool place. After opening, storing the tiger nuts in an airtight container will see them last a year. Other dried products, like tiger nut flour, can be expected to last for similar durations when stored in the same conditions. Cooked tiger nuts, however, should always be stored in the fridge.

Tiger nut milk does not have the impressive lifespan associated with some mass-produced plant-based milks. This is because tiger nut milk is predominantly made by small-scale businesses that do not pasteurize their products. So while some mass-produced, pasteurized plant-based milks can last for years at room temperature, tiger nut milk only lasts a week after opening and must be stored in the fridge. Tiger nut butter is also best kept in the fridge as it helps prevent the oils in the butter from turning rancid.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.