What Are Tiger Nuts?

Every once in a while, I’m introduced to a food that I’ve never heard of before. Most recently it was tiger nuts.

Obviously, I assumed it was an actual nut — who wouldn’t? But I was wrong; a tiger nut isn’t in the nut family at all. It does though have stripes on its outer shell that resemble a tiger. So, there’s that.

What Are Tiger Nuts?

Tiger nuts are actually tubers, vegetables that grow off the root of a plant underground, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama and yams. They’ve been around for centuries, perhaps originating in Egypt, and are also known as chufa nuts and earth almonds. They have a nutty, earthy taste with a hint of vanilla flavor. They’re typically eaten either roasted, ground (into a flour or butter) or even juiced into a milk.

[SEE: Top Gluten-Free Diet Meal Delivery Services. ]

Why Are Tiger Nuts So Popular Now?

They’ve been eaten in one form or another since Neolithic Egypt, and enjoyed by Spaniards since the 18th century. But I can’t help but wonder why I was just learning about them now.

It seems their new popularity is because of their also very popular friend the AIP diet— or autoimmune protocol — which is aimed at reducing inflammation, pain and other symptoms caused by autoimmune diseases. Some consider the AIP diet an extension of the Paleo diet but even stricter. The science is limited at the moment to the substantiate the health claims of the AIP diet; however, it hasn’t deterred from its popularity.

[READ: Anti-inflammatory Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid — or at Least Limit.]

How Do You Follow the AIP Diet?

As with the p aleo diet, the AIP diet also has a long list of foods that either get a red light or green light, but it also consists of two phases:

Phase one is the elimination phase, where foods like grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, nightshade vegetables, eggs, dairy, alcohol, coffee, oils, food additives, refined and processed sugars are completely avoided. This phase is followed for around 30 to 90 days, or until a person supposedly feels better.

Next comes the reintroduction phase, where the avoided foods are gradually reintroduced into the diet, one at a time, based on the person’s tolerance. What is tolerated can be added back into a person’s diet for the long term, and what isn’t remains off limits.

As you can see from the off-limit foods to start, nuts are on that list. Therefore, for those looking for something substitute for nuts, they’ve discovered the tiger nut.

[See: 9 Most Common Food Allergies.]

Are There Any Nutritional Benefits of the Tiger Nut?

One ounce of tiger nuts contains 120 calories, 10 grams of fiber, 7 grams of fat (mostly mono-unsaturated) and 2 grams of protein. They are also a good source of antioxidants, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, phosphorous, magnesium, iron and calcium.

There is limited research specifically on tiger nuts and their health benefits; however, we do know of overall health benefits of foods rich in fiber, antioxidants and mono-unsaturated fats.

For example, foods rich in fiber have been shown to possibly help alleviate constipation, improve digestive health, and may help reduce cholesterol levels and maintain blood glucose levels.

Antioxidant-rich foods have been associated with improving immunity, preventing certain cancers and, because of anti-inflammatory properties, reducing the risk for heart disease. And lastly, monounsaturated fats are also known to be heart protective and provide satiety which may help in weight control.

How to Enjoy Tiger Nuts

Tiger nuts can be enjoyed the same as regular tree nuts. They can be added to a trail mix, mixed into yogurts, hot or cold cereal or tossed onto a salad.

When ground into a flour, they can be used for baking, especially muffins, or breading for chicken cutlets or fish fillets. Tiger nut butter can be spread on 100% whole-grain toast or crackers or added to a smoothie.

Bottom Line:

Whether or not you’re following an AIP diet, you could definitely consider adding tiger nuts to your diet. They are allergy-free, plant-based, sustainable and contain nutrients that are good for your health. Unlike “real” nuts, though, they’re low in protein — in case you’re considering ditching other nuts all together. The ultimate test though will be whether you like them or not. Let us know.

More from U.S. News

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Food Cravings That Wreck Your Diet

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What Are Tiger Nuts? originally appeared on usnews.com

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