A few years ago I had a pretty disappointing experience with food. In fact, I flew halfway across the world in search of a particular local delicacy… and I never did taste it or even lay eyes on it. Such a disappointment for a local food lover like me!
My Zealous Search for Tiger Nuts in Spain
At the time I was in Barcelona, Spain, and I had my eye and heart set on trying some traditional Spanish horchata de chufa, or tiger nut milk.
For the sake of authenticity, it’s important not to confuse it with Mexico’s version of horchata, which typically uses white rice. In some areas of Central America, like Honduras and El Salvador, horchata is made from morro seeds, which is apparently a fruit like coconut.
But I have yet to lay eyes on it.
A rose by any other name should still taste as sweet, right? Um… no. For this edition of Try Something New, we’re concerned with the Spanish version because it uses tiger nuts, a healthy and hearty ingredient considered a “traditional” food in Spain.
Anyway, back to Barcelona. I was searching high and low. I stalked the menus of dozens of local cafes, restaurants and other eateries hoping to find horchata de chufa on a beverage list. I visited local markets and grocery stores hoping to get my hands on some tiger nuts so I could, at the very least, hold them close and smuggle them back to the chic apartment my friend and I were renting for the week.
Maybe I could make my own? Unlikely to be authentic, but I was beyond caring. I don’t remember if we even had a blender in the apartment but it didn’t seem to matter at the time. I would find a way. Even though it was the middle of February and even though I was looking for a food commonly enjoyed as a warm or summer weather beverage, I still hoped to find it somewhere… anywhere.
Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful.
No horchata de chufa or tiger nuts of any kind for me during my trip to Barcelona. (However, I did succeed in making a nuisance of myself. I guess not everyone appreciates my love of local food… but you do, right?)
This story could have a sad ending but a few months after returning home, the unexpected happened: one day, when I was minding my own business and wandering the aisles of the local bulk food store in my small town, I found the food I had searched for, even longed for if I am to be a bit dramatic, with a bright “NEW” tag announcing its recent arrival to the store (and coincidentally, my life). I probably squealed out loud. I don’t remember because I have done sillier things in public but needless to say, it was a pretty exciting discovery!
Wait… Tiger Nuts Aren’t Even Nuts?
Like many food mysteries (avocados are a fruit? coconuts aren’t actually nuts?), tiger nuts are not what they first appear to be. For one thing, tiger nuts aren’t actually nuts [reference]. It’s unclear how they got their name but tiger nuts are tubers, just like potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, yams, taro and jicama.
Tubers are the parts of plants that grow underground and store a plant’s nutrient reserves. The plant essentially stores extra nutrients to provide food for the plant during tough weather conditions like drought or severe cold, which can stress the plant. When tubers are stored, their inulin content is converted or broken down into fructose. Tiger nuts are usually stored for three or more months before selling, which means they often taste naturally sweet.
Tiger Nut Nutritional and Health Information
There isn’t a wealth of science-based information about tiger nuts available yet; however, they can be considered a nutrient-dense food. Tiger nuts contain significant amounts of fatty acids, carbohydrates, vitamins C and E, as well as certain minerals, including magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and iron. [reference]
Because of their nutrient density, it seems tiger nuts may have been a key food in the diet of the “Nutcracker Man”, one of the world’s earliest humans about 1.4 to 2.3 million years ago… I don’t know about you but that feels like yesterday, doesn’t it?
This diet is interesting and you can read more about it here and here. Once thought to be a vitamin, pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) may occur in high amounts in tubers based on this article. PQQ research, according to Dr. Michael Murray, has focused on PQQ’s ability to improve and maintain brain function and cognition [reference]. PQQ research has looked at its ability to stall neurological degeneration while reducing the build-up of amyloid plaque responsible for Alzheimer’s disease [reference].
This is a fascinating area of research for me and I’m eager to continue learning more. And if the fact that these tubers are super healthy and delicious wasn’t enough, apparently you can also use tiger nuts as bait when you go fishing. Apparently turkeys, ducks and hogs also find them delicious. Huh.
Tiger Nut Culinary Uses
From a culinary nutrition perspective, what can you do with tiger nuts once you get your hands on some? Well, you can make your own Spanish horchata de chufa (tiger nut milk) and you don’t even need to travel around the world. It can be made the same way as almond milk. And we know how easy that is, right?
You can find my how to make almond milk tutorial here. The secret to great horchata de chufa? In my humble opinion, I believe it’s extra cinnamon! You could also make a simple yet ingenious summer breakfast porridge, substituting the almonds for tiger nuts. My Late Summer Peach and Almond Porridge will hit the spot. If you feel like dessert, and I know I always do, you could make these luscious Pink Lemonade Bars.
They are an extra creamy gluten- and grain-free lemon bar with raspberries added for colour and sweetness. Since tiger nuts aren’t nuts at all, they should be acceptable in school snacks, lunches, etc. When in doubt, check with your child’s school. This ingredient may also be new to school officials; if so, feel free to share this post with them!
I developed this recipe for a Summer Desserts cooking workshop I teach and I’ve only had rave reviews every time. Essentially you’re using ground tiger nuts in both the crust and in the filling (as a thickener). As I mentioned above, tiger nuts are naturally sweet (almost like a cross between almond and coconut). Because of this, you can use fewer sweeteners in your dessert recipes, which means you’re more likely to feel satiated than starving after you enjoy them. I use minimal amounts of maple syrup in this dessert (and this makes a large recipe, one 8 1/2 x 12-inch pan).
Here’s how to make my Pink Lemonade Bars (with a tiger nut & coconut crust):
Pink Lemonade Bars
For the crust layer:
- 2 egg whites separate the eggs and use in yolks in the lemon filling, beaten
- 1/4 cup coconut oil liquid
- 1 Tbsp maple syrup
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 cup tigernut flour ground tiger nuts
For the filling layer:
- 3 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks beaten
- 3 Tbsp maple syrup
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp lemon zest
- 1/3 cup tigernut flour ground tiger nuts
- 2/3 cup fresh raspberries
- Optional: Lemon zest or coconut flour for dusting
Set the oven to 350°F.
In a medium bowl, mix the egg whites, coconut oil, maple syrup and salt together until smooth. Add in the shredded coconut and tigernut flour and mix until well combined.
Press the crust evenly into a greased 8 1/2” x 12” glass baking pan. Prick it with a fork a few times. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until slightly golden around the edges.
In the meantime, add all filling ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.
When the crust is out of the oven (no need to let it cool), pour the filling over the top and gently tap the baking pan on the counter to remove air bubbles.
Bake in a water bath for 15-18 minutes or until the centre is set (it will only barely jiggle or not at all).
Remove from the oven and let cool completely before slicing. Serve and sprinkle with lemon zest or coconut flour if desired.
Original recipe by Ashleigh Grange, RHN.
I can’t wait to experiment with this new ingredient more. Perhaps you’ll see a tiger nut granola recipe from me in the future? Maybe tiger nut pudding? Or perhaps tiger nut pancakes or tiger nut breakfast cake?
The possibilities are endless!
I love trying new ingredients because life is a plate… eat up!