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Tiger nut (or chufa nut) flour, which is ground from tubers that grow on the yellow nutsedge plant, is gaining popularity globally as the perfect substitute for wheat flour, given its gluten-free properties, its status as a super food and its natural sweet taste.
The flour, which is made by grinding tiger nut tubers and sieving the powder through a fine screen, acts like almond flour, adding moisture and chewiness but with a sweeter taste.
Ancient ingredients are becoming mainstream again
With the heightened buzz for ancient foods, tiger nuts have been getting a fair amount of attention of late. Researchers at Oxford University have found that between 1.4 million and 2.4 million years ago, early hominins, mankind’s ancient ancestors, in East Africa survived primarily on tiger nuts.
According to Gabriele Macho, the lead author of the Oxford study, “’Tiger nuts, still sold in health food shops as well as being widely used for grinding down and baking in many countries, would be relatively easy to find. They also provided a good source of nourishment for a medium-sized hominin with a large brain. This is why these hominins were able to survive for around one million years because they could successfully forage – even through periods of climatic change.” How’s that as an incentive for Paleo eaters?
It is a ‘Super Flour’
As a Super Food, Tiger nut flour is rich in calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, iron and zinc, vitamins C and E and folic acid, as well as unsaturated fats and proteins. It is low in carbohydrates, which makes it ideal for Paleo and Ketogenic diets, and is high in fiber and antioxidants. It is thought to help with weight loss by reducing blood sugar spikes and maintaining a full feeling for longer periods than other foods with equivalent calories and, as a prebiotic, it stimulates the growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract.
“Our mission is to empower our audience with guilt-free snacks that they can eat throughout the day, while also fueling their bodies with various nutrients, like prebiotics and fiber,” says Nicholas Naclerio, Founder of Mmmly, a ‘reinvented’ low-carb functional cookie made from tiger nut flour. “We also use natural sweeteners, like apples and monk fruit, that allow the cookie to be low in sugar, while still tasting delicious, and include agave fiber, almonds and hazelnuts, all of which have many nutritional and healing benefits.”
It is delicious and versatile
Tiger nut flour is ideal for gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free, vegan, keto and paleo diets and can be cooked, baked or fried. While the moist, chewy texture is ideal for a number of applications and recipes, the milky sugary taste is perfect for baked goods as well as sweet breads and tart shells and can be used to add ‘bulk’ to no-bake treats.
Spera Foods, manufactured in Holland Michigan, capitalizes on the naturally sweet taste of tiger nut flour in its tiger nut flour mixes such as Tiger Nut Flour Waffle and Pancake Mix, Tiger Nut Granola (in blueberry turmeric, chocolate cherry and cinnamon flavors) and Tiger Nut Cake and Cupcake mix.
From a savory perspective, tiger nut can be used in breads, pizza crusts and as a binding agent in vegan foods such as plant-based burgers. Late July offers Organic Sea Salt Tortilla Chips that are grain-free and corn-free, made simply of tiger nut flour, cassava flour and chia seeds. Vegan Jamaican Toma-Tis Restaurant & Grill located in Long Island New York, offers patrons vegan stewed peas, made of kidney beans and tiger nut, and curried “goat,” made from tiger nut flour bonded with flax seed.
Tiger nut flour is also the perfect flour substitute for health foods.
“I made great use of tiger nut flour as the personal chef on a Yoga Wellness retreat in Costa Rica,” says Barbados-based plant-based chef and health coach, Anne-Marie Leach. “I love the similarities to almond flour when baking as well as the fact that it’s gluten free, nut free and grain free. It was perfect in the rose chia baked donuts that I served as a delicate sweet afternoon tea treat for the guests.”
It is a sustainable food source
As a forgotten crop, tiger nut has been neglected in favor of staples that are mass produced as monocrops, such as wheat, maize, rice and soya bean, which often wreak havoc on the environment. In some parts of the world, the tiger nut plant is loathed by farmers and is considered a weed because of its ability to survive under extreme conditions— but herein lies an opportunity for sustainable and climate resilient food production.
With proper cultivation, the tiger nut yields an abundant harvest while enriching the soil in which it grows, thus enhancing its carbon sequestering capabilities. It can grow in most climates, soils and conditions, is herbicide resistant and all parts of the plant can be used and eaten.
Tiger House Limited, located in Nkontrodo, Cape Coast, Ghana uses all parts of the nutsedge plant, from which the tiger nut derives, to make tiger nut snacks, tiger nut flour and household products made with tiger nut in a no waste approach to reducing malnutrition and enhancing healthy living in the West African country.
Support development in Africa
While tiger nuts are native to Africa where they are more frequently consumed locally in their raw form, there is a burgeoning market emerging on the continent for value added products and exports. In Nigeria, The Nut Place is an agro-processing company that produces tiger nut flour as its maiden product.
According to owner and CEO, Chigozie Bashua, “Food insecurity within the country is worsening and processing of food is one of the ways to preserve our primary raw materials.” In the UK, The Tiger Nut Company sources its tiger nut flour from ethical sources in Burkina Faso, and Nordic Chufa, a Danish tiger nut agro-processor buys its tiger nuts from a wholesaler in Spain that obtains its certified organic tiger nuts from farms in Niger and Burkina Faso.
“Tiger nut flour is made from one of the most amazing root vegetables,” says Nicholas Naclerio of Mmmly. “With a deliciously subtle flavor profile, amazing macronutrients, and country of origin that anyone would be proud to source ingredients from (Nigeria), it is too hard of an ingredient not to use. Tiger nut is an ingredient that represents the future of food.”