What Are Tiger Nuts—and Should You Be Eating Them?
Tiger nuts are not nuts, but tubers with a lightly sweet, nutty flavor with nutrients and health benefits. Here's what you need to know.
Despite their name, tiger nuts aren’t actually nuts. These wrinkly little foods are actually tubers like potatoes and yams.
Tiger nuts are also known as yellow nutsedge, chufa, or earth almonds. This grass-like weed is common in Mediterranean and tropical climates around the world. Tiger nuts have a slightly sweet, nutty flavor. They’re “roughly the size of a garbanzo bean (chickpea)” and “wrinkly, almost like a raisin,” says North Carolina-based RDN Sheri Vettel at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
These nuts are also a great source of fiber, magnesium, and potassium. “Their texture is like a Brazil nut but has the sweetness of pecans and the earthiness of a sweet potato” adds Mary Gollan, RDN and board member of the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Tiger nuts were one of the first foods grown in ancient Egypt, and people have been eating them for thousands of years. Now the snack is becoming popular as a healthy, plant-based boost for everything from weight loss to heart health, explains Mascha Davis, RDN. However, it’s important to note that the science behind some of the purported benefits is up for debate.
A 2018 market research study revealed that an increased demand for healthy plant-based snacks has fueled the sales of tiger nuts in recent years.
There’s not a lot of research on these interesting tubers, but here’s what our panel of experts say we know right now. (Learn about these fall superfoods.)
Tiger nut nutrition basics
Nuts are known as a great source of plant-based protein. But what about tubers such as tiger nuts?
“Tubers are vegetables that grow underground attached to the root of the plant and are usually high in starch,” says Melissa Kathryn, RD, a certified holistic nutritionist. She points out that tiger nuts are loaded with fiber and a great source of resistant starch—a kind of carbohydrate that is difficult to digest and can actually help feed healthy bacteria in the large intestine. “They also have complex carbs, which provide energy for the body to function,” says Kathryn.
Tiger nuts are starchy like potatoes but have a similar fiber content to almonds. The fat and protein content is lower than typical tree nuts such as almonds, cashews, or hazelnuts.
“They provide a great number of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamins E, C, and folic acid,” says Kathyrn. While you might not get enough of these micronutrients from one handful of tiger nuts, eating them regularly could help you get enough of these vitamins and minerals over time.
Keiko Iwabuchi/Getty Images
The health benefits of tiger nuts
Tiger nuts are packed with resistant starch, fiber, and micronutrients, such as magnesium and potassium. In theory, consuming these nutrients should result in better health. However, research on the direct health benefits of tiger nuts is still limited—at least in humans, anyway. Most research on tiger nuts has been animal or cell studies.
KaNisha L. Hall, MD, physician and wellness coach in Houston, says that although the vegan snack has grown in popularity there is little concrete and reproducible data to support that the actual health benefits are greater than placebo. “Based on the fiber content, claims have been made that it improves digestion and glucose levels. The antioxidants are suggested to prevent harm from free radicals and furthermore prevent heart disease and cancer. Some sources have also claimed the food to be an aphrodisiac,” she says. However, Dr. Hall cautions that “credible research has not supported these findings.”
Tiger nuts may ease constipation
Gollan, Kathryn, and Vettel agree that tiger nuts could help make your bowel movements smoother and easier, relieving constipation. Constipation is usually a clear sign that you’re not eating enough fiber. According to Gollan, the combination of fiber and magnesium “keep our bowels regular and happy.” Kathryn adds that tiger nuts are a good source of insoluble fiber in particular, which is known to add bulk to stools and help clean out the intestinal tract.
Tiger nuts may be an aphrodisiac
Historically, people sometimes have eaten tiger nuts to improve sexual performance. But despite claims in the Middle East and parts of Africa that this snack increases men’s sexual arousal, there is no scientific data to support this claim. In one animal study published in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies, male rats that received doses of raw tiger nut powder did engage in more frequent sexual activity than rats without tiger nut powder. However, there’s still a lack of evidence when it comes to linking tiger nuts to human libido. (Try these aphrodisiac foods that work—if you think they do.)
Tiger nuts may help your heart
“Beyond the tiger nuts’ contribution to a healthy gut, they are also high in iron as well as healthy fats, specifically monounsaturated fatty acids,” says Vettel. “These types of fats, also found in healthy foods such as avocado, olive oil, and nuts such as almonds and walnuts, are known to lower cholesterol and promote heart health.” A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that plant-based monounsaturated fatty acids are particularly helpful for reducing the risk of heart disease in both men and women.
Tiger nuts could aid weight loss
While tiger nuts will not directly improve your body’s ability to burn fat, they can be a healthy snack for those trying to lose weight. That’s because of their high percentage of insoluble dietary fiber. According to a tiger nut review published in Comprehensive Reviews of Food Science and Food Safety, “The intake of this kind of fiber is linked to a sensation of satiety since the fiber absorbs water and takes up space in the stomach and diminishes the need to consume more food.” So, eating tiger nuts has the potential to help you feel fuller, reducing cravings, and encouraging you to eat fewer calories.
Beware the side effects of too much fiber
When it comes to excess fiber consumption, our experts do caution against adding too many tiger nuts to your diet all at once.
“Tiger nuts are quite high in fiber at 10 grams per 1 ounce (37.8 gram) serving. For this reason, they should be added to the diet gradually to assess tolerance and reduce the risk of any digestive issues. It’s also important to note that some individuals may have allergies to tiger nuts, including those who are allergic to pollen,” says Vettel.
Gollan adds that getting bloated or gassy after eating tiger nuts is probably an indication that you’re not getting enough daily fiber. “Any food that contains a high amount of fiber may cause bloating and flatulence,” she says. “If you start eating more fiber-rich foods regularly, you will lessen your chance of experiencing these symptoms.”
Tiger nuts are an allergy-friendly snack
Nutritionists agree that tiger nut products offer a variety of options for people who have food allergies, including gluten, dairy, and nuts.
“Tiger nut milk is a good non-dairy alternative and can add a semi-sweet flavor to the products you use it in,” says Gollan.
“Tiger nut flour is also very popular in gluten- and grain-free baking, as the consistency is very similar to other nut flours. This kind of flour is made by roasting the nuts first and then grinding them into a fine powder,” Vettel adds. “They are similar in size and taste to actual nuts, makes them a wonderful option for those with nut allergies, or for those following dietary approaches where nuts aren’t recommended.” For example, these dietary approaches may include an autoimmune dietary protocol or following a low histamine diet.
How to eat tiger nuts
It’s safe to eat raw tiger nuts, though they can also be cooked, baked into desserts, or made into tiger nut milk. You can boost their antioxidant levels by roasting them before eating to improve the absorption of nutrients. You can germinate, or grow them too.
“Keep in mind that they tend to be softer and much easier to chew when they have been soaked or boiled in water,” Davis says. “Soaking or roasting tiger nuts prior to eating can boost their antioxidant levels and improve your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients.”
Gollan says she enjoys tiger nuts roasted in the oven with cinnamon, while Vettel uses tiger nuts as a crunchy topping on yogurt or smoothie bowls. Kathryn adds that they’re a great, easy snack to have on the go whenever hunger pangs strike.
Next, find out the healthy snacks that can satisfy the munchies.
- KaNisha L. Hall, MD, physician, wellness coach, and author
- Melissa Kathryn, RD, a certified holistic nutritionist, fitness author and TEDx speaker
- Mary Gollan, MS, RDN, CDN, CLC, a dietician, certified lactation counselor, and board member on the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Sherri Vettel, MPH, RD, LDN, a North Carolina-based registered dietician nutritionist at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition
- Mascha Davis MPH, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Eat Your Vitamins
- Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety: "Tiger Nut (Cyperus esculentus) Commercialization: Health Aspects, Composition, Properties, and Food Applications"
- Food Research International: "Dietary supplementation of tiger nut alters biochemical parameters relevant to erectile function in l-NAME treated rats"
- Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology: "Tigernut (Cyperus esculentus L.) "milk" as a potent 'nutri-drink' for the prevention of acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity in a murine model"
- BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies: "Influence of Cyperus esculentus tubers (Tiger Nut) on male rat copulatory behavior"
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Monounsaturated fats from plant and animal sources in relation to risk of coronary heart disease among US men and women"
- Transparency Market Research: “Tiger Nuts Market - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast 2018 - 2026”