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Tiger nuts: the small but mighty superfood that's set for big things...

September 23rd 2016 / Ayesha Muttucumaru Google+ Ayesha Muttucumaru

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Renowned for its health and skin benefits, this ancient supercrop is making a massive comeback in the dairy-free stakes. Here are 7 things you need to know about this nutrient-dense ‘nut’...

Looking for a new way to get your dairy-free fix? Meet the tiger nut - history’s small but mighty superfood set to make a comeback in a big way.

A plant-based supercrop hugely popular in parts of Africa and the Hispanic world (where its milk variation, Horchata, is widely available), tiger nuts have long been touted for their skin and health benefits. Although a pretty unknown entity on our shores, their demand is gaining momentum fast, (in fact, Vampire Weekend wrote a song about it...), so we asked nutritional therapist Eve Kalinik for the fast facts on this alleged nutritional powerhouse and for her top recommendations for sneaking more into your diet...

1. They’re not in fact nuts...

(...and you’re not alone if you thought they were). Their roots might surprise you. “Contrary to their namesake, tiger nuts are not actually nuts but in fact, a type of small tuber root vegetable,” explains Eve.

2. They’re rich in resistant starch...

...an uncelebrated branch of the fibre family. “Derived from the yellow nutsedge plant, tiger nuts are a great source of fibre - particularly a type of fibre called resistant starch (RS) that is relatively hard to get in our diet,” says Eve. “RS is very important in helping to maintain the health of the gut as it works as a natural prebiotic, feeding beneficial bacteria that in turn support the production of butyrate - a short chain fatty acid that nourishes the cells of the colon.” She adds, “Research has linked butyrate to reduced inflammatory episodes of digestive disorders such as Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis, as well as having suggested tumour inhibiting properties. It has also been reported to help curb appetite and as such, support healthy weight management.”

They’re also effective in providing a valuable helping hand on the digestion front on a more regular basis too. “If you are someone that suffers with a bit of a sluggish digestion, you might find that adding tiger nuts into your routine can really help. Just go gradually!” says Eve. “It is also important for us all to take in sources of fibre and resistant starch on a daily basis to maintain optimum gut health - and tiger nuts provide this in abundance,” she adds.

MORE GLOSS: Could a healthier gut lead to a happier mind?

3. They’re anti-inflammatory...

...and can provide an easy yet effective way to up your daily intake of omegas. According to Eve: “What really sets tiger nuts apart is that unlike nuts and seeds which are naturally high in omega 6, they contain more of the monounsaturated type. This is important since we take in a lot of omega 6 fatty acids through our diet and not enough of the other omegas which can sway this balance into more of an inflammatory state - so you might consider them a good anti-inflammatory."

“They are also a great source of vitamin E which is an important antioxidant helping to neutralise cell damage and generally reduce inflammation,” she says. “They additionally provide pretty decent sources of iron, calcium and magnesium that are important for energy and bone health.” Feeding both skin and body from the inside out, it seems their small size doesn’t do justice to their far-reaching effects.

The milk is beautifully sweet and something of a tradition in Spain - they call it Horchata de Chufa there and have been drinking it for years

4. You don’t have to add sugar to them...

...as they’re surprisingly tasty on their own. “Everyone can benefit from them and, because they are so naturally sweet, it means that most people don’t feel the need to add additional sweeteners like you might do to regular plant-based milks,” explains Eve to give them a noticeable leg-up on the rice and soy milks of the world.

5. You can make your own tiger nut milk at home...

...if you have a bit of time on your hands. “The milk is beautifully sweet and something of a tradition in Spain - they call it Horchata de chufa there and have been drinking it for years,” says Eve. “It’s the same principle as making almond milk, but you would need to soak the tiger nuts for a while as they are pretty hardy.” The extra effort could be worth it though for a more nutrient-dense finished product. “You get less of them percentage wise in the shop bought milks than you would do at home,” points out Eve.

How does Eve make hers? “I work to a ratio of 1 cup of tiger nuts to 5 cups of filtered water. Blend well in a high speed blender then, strain through a nut milk bag. The next bit is optional but I think it really enhances the flavour: pour the strained milk back into the blender, add a pinch of salt and a touch of vanilla essence and blend for a further 10 seconds." Its shelf-life? "If you make it from scratch, it’ll last three days in the fridge.”

MORE GLOSS: The 10 commandments of healthy eating - your cut-out-and-keep guide

6. You can buy it in-store...

...if you can’t be bothered to make it at home. However, despite being widely available in other countries such as Spain, it’s still very much in its infancy availability-wise here. Available in fresh and carton options, opt for the former to avoid extra sugars advises Eve. One of the most delicious varieties we’ve come across is from Santi Spa Juicery, £4 - a cold-pressed range made from organic tiger nuts and purified water with Medjool dates and vanilla added for flavour. Daylesford Organic has also just launched a range of tiger nut cold-pressed juices for £5.49 each, comprising of a slightly longer shelf life of 10 days and added Himalayan pink salt to enhance its taste.

7. There’s more to tiger nuts than milk...

...to act as a great addition to a menu of different meals. “You can make plenty of delicious recipes,” says Eve. “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 - I love the Tiger Nut Company’s. Make into pancakes, add to smoothies or you can even make ice-cream with them - super versatile and tasty.”

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Liked this? Then you’ll enjoy reading Amelia Freer’s 10 top ways to clean up your diet...

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