They look ordinary and not particularly appealing. They are also sold mostly by mallams in wheel barrows in most cities in Nigeria; so the average educated Nigerian may never look their way. However, recent studies have shown that the seemingly ordinary tigernuts are a veritable source of the nutritional needs of most humans.
This is because tigernut (or aki awusa as it is known in Igboland, or ofio in Yorubaland), has been found to be one of nature’s super foods. It is a very rich source of dietary fibre; in fact, over 30% of it is made of fibre, which is more than that of oats, bran and most vegetables and fruits. Doctors and nutritionists advise that we all need dietary fibre to keep our digestive system in good working order; it can also be an aid to weight loss, as makes one feel fuller for longer.
Tigernut is equally believed to contain ingredients that can help prevent heart attack and improve blood circulation. Cardiologists recommend eating tigernuts because they have the similar lipid profile to Olive oil which is considered one of the healthiest oils.
Tigernuts also help to control blood pressure and are high in amino acids, especially arginine, which has been shown to be beneficial to those suffering from high blood pressure. Arginine has been clinically proven to reduce blood pressure.
Additionally, tigernuts have proven to be rich in magnesium, which is needed by the body to help with muscle and nerve function and for the proper functioning of the immune system. Magnesium also helps to regulate the heartbeat.
Prof. Ene-Obong, a nutritionist who has done some research on tigernuts, explained that they are able to control sugar levels because of their high fibre content. According to her, “If tigernuts are eaten for a long time, they have the ability to lower blood sugar.”
Tigernuts are also said to be a veritable source of protein, which is vital in building of skin, muscles, bones and repairing of cells in our bodies. Tigernuts provide one of the best non-meat form of protein and their milk contains no lactose. This makes it a great alternative for people who are lactose intolerant. Prof. Ene-Obong noted that a student of hers did research on this and found out that tigernut milk is quite rich and can be a substitute for cow milk.
Tigernut 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, 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.
There is evidence that tigernut has been cultivated in Egypt since the sixth century and for several centuries in Southern Europe. This crop is cultivated due to its edible tubers known for the preparation of “horchata de chufa”, a sweet milk-like beverage. But it is considered as a weed in most countries
The tigernut 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 three 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 five to 30 mm long and are linear to narrowly elliptical with eight to 35 florets. The colour ranges from straw-coloured 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.
Good source of nutrition
Researchers have confirmed that tigernuts were a great source of nutrition for the Egyptian people. Indeed, it was the most ancient food found in Egypt after barley and emmer. Illustrations of Cyperus grass (nut grass) are found in many Egyptian tombs and it was discovered in the stomach of mummies, according to the book, Ancient Egyptians and their influence on the Civilization of Europe by G. Elliot-Smith.
It is also believed that tigernuts were a source of food for the Palaeo-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.
Tigernuts are essential nuts and locally grown food source for fighting malnutrition in places like Africa. Different reports have suggested that they have a high amount of starch, 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. Some B-complex vitamins are also present in tigernuts. They are quite good for diabetics and can be consumed roasted, dried or raw. Yogurt is now made of added tigernut milk for improving the nutritional content.
Tigernuts are also 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 diarrhoea and flatulence. They are also quite helpful in treating dysentery and indigestion.
Tigernuts belong 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.
Good vegan diet
Vegan diets are more efficient when the iron intake isn’t diminished. When you add tigernuts to your diet, then your overall health becomes better because this vegetable root has high iron content in it. Tigernuts contain more iron than cow milk and as much as liver or red meat. You can snack on tiger nuts or bake them with tigernut flour. You can add plenty of vitamins and minerals by eating tigernuts. It strengthens your whole body.
There are some who say that tigernuts milk mixed with date palm and coconut milk is one of the “most powerful aphrodisiacs” in the world. There is also a claim that it boosts fertility and increases chances of multiple birth occurrences. These claims have, however, not been scientifically proven.
The use of the tigernut is not limited to nutrition. Since recent studies have found that tiger nuts are brimming with vitamins and minerals, they can also be exported for commercial purposes. Northern Nigeria grows and supplies this nut to other parts of the country.
Until recently, few people paid attention to tigernut; but as awareness of its nutritional benefits continue to grow, the mallams peddling the nuts are beginning to get more patronage and the nuts are becoming more expensive. One of the hawkers, when asked why the price had risen so much, said, “Before I buy bag for N7000, now I buy one bag N17,000.”
This means that anyone with business acumen can go into the business of selling tigernuts and even exporting to other African countries that do not have them. The foreign exchange earned from this can contribute to the dwindling economy.
Caution in consumption
Tigernuts, as already mentioned, are a good source of nutritional fibre. Fibre aids digestion. However, excessive intake can lead to stomach problems like bloating, diarrhoea and flatulence. This is why the Unites States’ National Institute of Health suggests that adults should eat between 20 and 35 grams of fibre per day.
Moreover, the high fat content in tigernuts means high calories. To this end, the Harvard Medical School has suggested that when you add tigernut to your diet, you should also look for other healthy nutritional sources for lowering calories to counter this effect. This snack could increase your weight if you don’t do this.
The University of Chicago also states that for children under two years, about 75 per cent 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.
Despite these few possible side effects, Tigernuts have more positives than negatives .