Do you want to cure your current health issues and get all the essential nutrients in your body at the same time? If so, then you need to eat tiger nuts (known also as Cyperus esculentus, earth almonds, nut grass or yellow nutsedge). Now you might be wondering what tiger nuts are and what their health benefits are. This article will inform you about tiger nuts, their health benefits and possible side effects.
What are tiger nuts
Tiger nut is a nut belonging to the crop of the sedge family which is spread all over the world. It is present mostly in the Western Hemisphere and the Southern Europe, Madagascar, Africa, Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East. It has also become quite common in many other regions including China, Hawaii, Ukraine, New Guinea, New South Wales, Java and various oceanic islands.
The tiger nuts crop can be found as weed, crop or in the wild. There is evidence that it was cultivated in Egypt since the sixth millennium BC and for several centuries in Southern Europe. This crop is cultivated due to its edible tubers known as tiger nuts or almonds for the preparation of “horchata de chufa”, a sweet milk-like beverage. But it is considered as a weed in most countries (1).
The tiger nuts plant is an annual plant which grows up to 90 cm tall with solitary stems growing from tuber. The plant is reproduced by rhizomes, seeds and tubers. The stems are triangular in shape and have slender leaves about 3 to 10 mm wide. The seeds of the plant are quite unique with a cluster of flat, oval seeds surrounded by four leaves at 90 degrees to each other. They are about 5 to 30 mm long and are linear to narrowly elliptical with 8 to 35 florets. The color ranges from straw colored to gold-brown. They can produce a total of 2420 seeds per plant. The plant foliage is quite tough and is often mistaken as a grass.
The roots are quite complex and extensive with fine, fibrous roots and rhizomes with small but hard spherical tubers. The tubulars are about 0.3 to 1.9 cm in diameter and the color varies between brown, black and yellow. A single plant can produce about several thousand tubers during a growing season. The foliage, rhizome and roots die with cool temperature but the tubers flourish during the spring season when soil temperature is above 5 degree Celsius. They can resprout several years later. Many rhizomes are formed when the tubers germinate and end in a basal bulb near soil surface. The basal bulbs initiate the leaves and stems above ground and the rootunderground is wind pollinated and needs cross pollination.
The plant requires a mild climate. The flowering stops with low temperature, light intensity and shadow. The tuber initiation is stopped by high levels of nitrogen, gibberellic acid and long photoperiods. The flower initiation usually starts under photoperiods of 12 to 14 hours per day.
The soil depth required for the growth of tubers is around 30 cm but most are present in the top or upper part. They can bear many adverse soil conditions which include periods of drought and flooding and can survive soil temperature around -5 degree C. They grow best on moist and sandy soils with pH between 5 and 7.5. They don’t tolerate salinity (measure of the salts dissolved in water).
The planting is mostly done on flat soils with ridges to favor irrigation. The separation between the ridges is about 60 cm and the seeds are planted with hand. The distance between the seeds should be from 15 to 20 cm and the depth of the seeds should be kept around 8 cm. The seeds are planted between April and May and need to be irrigated every week until they are harvested in November and December. Tubers are formed about 6 to 8 weeks after the seeding emergency and grow quickly during July and August. The maturing takes about 90 to 110 days. The average yield is somewhere between 10 and 19 t/ha.
The tiger nuts were a great source of Nutrition for the Egyptian people at least in the 5th millennium B.C. The Egyptians believed that it was the most ancient food found in Egypt after Barley and Emmer. The illustrations of Cyperus Grass are found in many tombs and it was discovered in the stomach of mummies by F. Netolizki in the Ancient Egyptians and their influence on the Civilization of Europe by G. Elliot-Smith.
Prehistoric tools have found the traces of C.esculentus tuber (tiger nut plant) from the early Archaic period in North America about 9,000 years ago at the Sandy Hill excavation site at Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket Connecticut. It is believed that the tubers were a source of food for the Paleo-Indians.
The plant is also cultivated in Spain besides Egypt where it is used for many commercial purposes in mild climatic regions. The plant was first introduced by the Arabs in the Valencia region. They are found in California and were grown by the Paiute in Owens Valley. The plant is also cultivated in many other countries like Yemen, Morocco, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Mexico, Chile, USA, Niger, Nigeria, Gambia and Mali.
Nutritional value of tiger nuts
Earth almonds (tiger nuts) are filled with different kinds of nutrients (2). The following table will help you know better about the nutritional composition of tiger nuts (3):
Health benefits of tiger nuts
Tiger nuts are quite healthy and help to prevent heart attacks, thrombosis and activation of blood circulation. They also prevent cancer due to the high content of soluble glucose. Some investigators have also found that they have the ability of reducing colon cancer. They have high fiber content and delicious taste which makes themideal for healthy eating.
Some major health benefits of tiger nuts are described below:
1. High fiber content
The tiger nuts have quite a high fiber content in them. They have higher fiber content than oats, cabbage, carrot, plums and Chia seeds. This fiber helps the organism to prevent constipation (4). It also acts as an appetite suppressant and helps to control body weight.
Cardiologists recommend eating tiger nuts because they have the similar lipid profile to olive oil which is considered one of the healthiest oils.
2. Blood pressure control
Tiger nuts are quite helpful in controlling the blood pressure of the body. These nuts have high amount of amino acids in them. There are different type of amino acids present in tiger nuts but arginine is regarded as the most commonly found amino acid.
The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research has named arginine the forerunner of nitric oxide which keep our blood vessels wide enough to allow the normal blood flow. Arginine helps in conditions which are worsened by restricted blood vessels like heart failure, blocked arteries, chest pain, artery diseases not affecting the heart or brain, muscle cramps, erectile dysfunction and headaches caused by swollen blood vessels (5).
3. Helpful against malnutrition in under developed nations
Tiger nuts are essential nuts and locally grown food source for fighting malnutrition in places like Africa. They have a higher amount of starch, good fiber content, a high fat content, rich in sodium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, copper, manganese and zinc and also have a higher amount of vitamin C and E content. Many important amino acids and some B-complex vitamins are also present in tiger nuts. They are quite good for diabetics and can be consumed roasted, dried or raw (6).
4. Helps in regulating blood sugar levels
One of the great health benefits of tiger nuts is that they are helpful in managing blood sugar levels. They have insoluble fiber in them which is quite helpful for diabetic patients. Insoluble fiber is quite essential for diabetic patients because they don’t cause ups and downs in the blood sugar levels.
5. Good source of vitamins
Different reports have suggested that tiger nuts are packed with minerals and vitamins. They have high content of vitamin E and C in them and also minerals like phosphorous and potassium. Yogurt is now made of added tiger nut milk for improving the nutritional content (7).
Tiger nuts are quite beneficial for the digestive system. They are used for dealing with stomach cramps, irritable bowels and other stomach issues. They have been used in traditional medicine for curing diarrhea and flatulence. They are also quite helpful in treating dysentery and indigestion (8).
7. Protection against cancer and cardiovascular diseases
Tiger nuts have a rich content of vitamin E in them. The Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institute of Health suggests that Vitamin E belongs to a group of fat soluble compounds with unique antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect the body from free radicals which are the molecules with unshared electron.
The unshared electron interacts with oxygen to create reactive oxygen species which is damaging to the body. Vitamin E also protects the body by stopping the development of reactive oxygen species. Research has proven that vitamin E has colorectal cancer prevention properties (9).
8. Healthy substitute for lactose intolerance
The milk obtained from tiger nuts is quite a healthy substitute for people who can’t drink cow’s milk due to lactose intolerance. Tiger nut doesn’t have any lactose in it and can be eaten as a substitute of milk which has high content of calcium in it and helps in bone building and growth of children. The tiger nuts milk has the highest nutrition among all the non-milk substitutes (10).
9. Good source of magnesium
The Office of Dietary Supplements suggests that magnesium is quite important for the normal functioning of the body because it carries out over 300 biometric reactions in the human body. Some previous studies have suggested that a 100 g of tiger nuts has about 13 to 17 percent of magnesium which promotes the normal nerve and muscle functioning, maintains blood pressure, maintains blood sugar levels, strengthens the bones and keep a person healthy (2, 11).
10. High iron content
Vegan diets are more efficient when the iron intake isn’t diminished. When you add tiger nuts to your diet then your overall health becomes better because this vegetable root has high iron content in it. Tiger nuts contain more than iron than the milk of cow and as much as liver or red meat. You can snack on tiger nuts or bake them with tiger nut flour. You can add plenty of vitamins and minerals by eating tiger nuts. It strengthens your whole body (11).
11. Prevention of diseases
Tiger nuts have amino acids like arginine which create an effective way to keep the heart diseases at bay. Arginine helps in decreasing the chances of blocked arteries, erectile dysfunction and muscle cramps. The presence of vitamin E in tiger nuts helps in avoiding heart diseases and cancer. These nuts are beneficial especially against colon cancer by feeding the friendly bacteria which are passed by other foods. The starch in tiger nuts also helps in proper digestive functioning and insulin sensitivity (12).
12. Starch resistant
Tiger nuts are the best whole food source of a specific type of fiber known as resistant starch. The pleasant flavor and texture adds to it. Resistant starch is a beneficial pre-biotic which means that it feeds on the good bacteria in the digestive system.
Resistant starch has been a hot topic of debate in the health world and more research has shown the unique benefits of this plant fiber. For example, research has indicated that starch resistant is a powerful factor in preventing and treating diabetes and obesity. But one thing should be kept in mind that introducing starch resistant foods like tiger nuts in your diet may produce symptoms of a shift in gut flora. You should introduce tiger nuts slowly and observe if you experience any symptoms of gas or bloating. If you observe these symptoms then you need to slowly increase the tiger nuts in your daily diet starting at just one or two per day.
13. Good source of non-meat proteins
Protein is quite important for a person’s diet. The United States Department of Agriculture states that it helps in building bone, cartilage, muscles, skin and blood and functions like a building block for enzymes, vitamins and hormones in our body. Protein also keeps us energetic throughout the day.
A 2007 conducted in the University of Ibadan in Ibadan, Nigeria was conducted in which the researchers discovered that tiger nuts are an excellent source of obtaining protein from plant matter (9.7%) which is almost equal to protein from whole wheat (9.8%) (13).
14. Boosting potassium in the body
Tiger nuts have high potassium content in them and the University Of Maryland Medical Center states that it is an essential mineral which helps in the proper functioning of the cell and other body organs, particularly the heart. Potassium is quite essential for the body to maintain the regulation of muscle contraction, digestive functions and controlling blood pressure levels.
15. Rival to the ‘Heart Healthy’ oils
Most people know that avocados and olive oil are good fats but you might not know that tiger nuts also come in the same category. They have good fats which comes from vegetables and not animal fats which are high in cholesterol. The oil from tiger nuts has only 18% saturated fat and 82% unsaturated fat which is close to olive oil with 14% saturated fat and 86% unsaturated fat.
16. Controlling diabetes
The highly insoluble dietary fiber in tiger nuts helps in regulating the blood sugar levels which in turn helps the diabetic patients to remain healthy.
17. Good for skin
A large amount of vitamin E is present in tiger nuts which helps against wrinkles and premature aging and helps in keeping the skin young and healthy.
Side effects of tiger Nuts
Tiger nuts provide protein, fiber, nutrients and other micronutrients to the body but they also have some side effects in the form of allergic reactions. They have the side effects similar to those faced by eating other nuts. Some major side effects of tiger nuts are specified below:
1. Skin reactions
The ‘TeensHealth From Nemours’ states that the most common type of food allergy reactions is skin reaction. Some typical skin reactions include rash, swelling around the mouth and eye, itching, general redness and tingling sensation in the mouth. A common allergy caused by eating tiger nuts is known as angioedema. Some people also get canker sores which are small, painful mouth ulcers (14).
2. Respiratory reactions
Some typical allergic reactions affecting the digestive system include coughing, running nose and sneezing. The respiratory allergic reactions caused from nuts like tiger nuts can cause life threatening side effects. The swelling in throat can cause shortness of breath and a tight feeling in the throat; these symptoms require immediate treatment. The University of Chicago has reported that throat tightness is a common side effect in nut allergy by 53 percent. The shortness of breath is present in 41 percent and wheezing in 29 percent. Breathing or smelling the nuts usually doesn’t cause any allergic reactions but sometimes a rare reaction can occur (15).
3. Gastrointestinal problems
Nuts are high fiber foods which is a quality making them quite healthy. You should eat fiber to aid digestion. But stomach problems like bloating, diarrhea and gas can occur if you eat a lot of fiber. When you eat too many tiger nuts during one evening then you can remain in misery the next day. The National Institutes of Health suggests that adult should eat between 20 and 35 grams of fiber per day.
4. Increase in weight
Nuts have high fat content in them. But most of the fat in unsaturated and lowers calories; high fat means high calories. The Harvard Medical schools states that when you add tiger nuts to your diet then you should look for other healthy sources for lowering calories to counter this effect. This snack could increase your weight if you don’t do this.
5. Systemic reactions
The University of Chicago states that when the children are about 14 months then about 75 percent of them develop nut allergies on their first exposure. A serious allergic reaction is known as anaphylaxis which can cause stomach collapse, low blood pressure and loss of consciousness. Death can also occur in case of lack of proper treatment. Experts recommend that people with nut allergies should keep epi-pen with them at all times which contains adrenaline. You should administer it as soon as the reaction starts.
6. Diverticular disease
People suffering with diverticulosis develop small sacs known as diverticula in the muscles of the intestine. There have been reports that tiger nuts don’t actually cause diverticula but there is a risk of developing this disease if eaten in large quantity.
How to prepare tiger nuts
Tiger nuts are quite easy to make. They have a crunchy texture and a sweet flavor.They are quite pleasant to eat too. The method of making tiger nuts is described below:
You should get organic gemini tiger nuts from the market. They should be hydrated in water before eating.
Put one ounce of tiger nuts in a small bowl with filtered water for 12 hours. It seems a small quantity but they can expand very quickly.
Drain the liquid in the morning and eat tiger nuts with breakfast.
You can also add another ounce of dry tiger nuts to the bowl and cover it with filtered water. They will be ready for the next day.
Some people soak tiger nuts for 48 hours. You should experiment and choose the soaking time which suits you best. Generally 12 to 24 hours is sufficient and preferable.
Tiger nuts require a considerable amount of time for storing and drying. The starch content of tiger nuts decreases and the sugar content increases during storage process (3). These nuts can be stored dry and dehydrated by soaking them; they don’t lose their crisp texture. Soaking should be done overnight. Dried nuts usually have a hard texture and they should be soaked for making them edible and ensure good sensory quality.
This post summarizes information about history, cultivation and nutritional values of tiger nuts, describes their benefits, side effects, ways to prepare and store them. Tiger nuts are packed with vitamins and fiber, which makes them a great addition to your diet. They are helpful in treatment of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, inflammation and are even a great substitute for milk products causing lactose intolerance. They are also a valuable source of magnesium and iron, some of the most important nutrients our body needs.
While benefits of tiger nuts are countless it is also worth noting that there are some side effects, too, mainly skin allergies, respiratory reactions and gastrointestinal issues.
You should always see a doctor if you are suffering from any disorder or need proper diagnosis. Use tiger nuts (and other natural remedies) wisely, only with prior consent of your doctor.