Tiger nuts are the latest craze among paleo dieters and health food companies have seized on the small root vegetables — which come from the underground stem of the Cyperus esculentus plant — as the latest “superfood.”
It’s not clear why paleo dieters have taken a sudden liking to tiger nuts, reports National Public Radio, though it could be because baboons eat them and, some scientists say, primates ate them a couple million years ago.
The small, chewy tubers are roughly the color of dry dirt.
Tiger nuts seem to have been both a medicine and a tasty, roasted, honey-coated snack in ancient Egypt. They have been found entombed with Egyptians buried from about 3000 B.C. to 400 A.D.
Some people in Africa still eat tiger nuts. And in Valencia, Spain, the root vegetables are still used to make a thick, sweet drink called horchata de chufa.
Tiger nuts are also some of the world’s worst weeds. They ruin gardens and generate millions of dollars of damage to agricultural crops annually.
“The plant just chokes up everything around it,” weed scientist Michael Defelice told NPR. “It’s really hard to kill.”
In the United States, the plant which produces tiger nuts can be found in every state except Montana and Wyoming, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
America’s health food industry has attempted a tiger-nut renewal by selling the tubers raw, as granola, as flour and in smoothies.
NPR’s taste testers described the flavor of tiger nuts as generally not awful. They’re kind of like really, really chewy and crunchy almonds, the testers said.
Nutritionally, tiger nuts contain unsaturated oils and some starch. There’s not much protein.