Having touched on the Tigernut previously, I thought it time for a complete review to encompass not only the aspects of its evolutionary roots in the human diet and impressive nutrition—both macro and micro—but also practical applications in our everyday lives. On that note, I have some interesting Tigernut food and drink experiences to share with you.
The Roots of the Root
One thing that always seemed a bit mysterious to me in the general human evolutionary narrative is how, nutritionally, our hominin ancestors were able to evolve to such extremes (ref: expensive tissue hypothesis and Kleiber’s law). Briefly, as the story goes, millions of years ago, our ape ancestors with their small brains and gigantic guts climbed down from the trees where they spent most of their time eating (since leaves aren’t nutritionally dense) and were able to acquire the nutritional density to eventually grow large brains and correspondingly small guts by scavenging stuff left over from predator kills, such as marrow and brain.
But how to get from A to B, without some intermediate step? What if, for example, there was a plant that could deliver this nutritional density, and far from being hit & miss like finding predator leftovers, it was as plentiful as invasive weeds and as easy to harvest as pulling them from soft, moist soil?
Tigernuts (Cyperus esculentus)
Earlier this year, new research was published that stemmed from research on the eating patterns of baboons. In a nutshell, a mystery was solved as to why isotope analysis suggested that “Nutcracker Man” (Paranthropus boisei) consumed a vast amount of grass (C4 plant sources). Why it was mysterious is that here, you have a larger-brained, smaller-gutted hominin eating essentially a diet similar to the leaves in trees; so where was the nutritional density coming from to grow and support this big brain with its important energy requirements? It wasn’t the grass, but the tubers in the soil, the roots.
Previous research using stable isotope analyses suggests the diet of these homimins was largely comprised of C4 plants like grasses and sedges. However, a debate has raged over whether such high-fibre foods could ever be of sufficiently high quality for a large-brained, medium-sized hominin.
Dr Macho’s study finds that baboons today eat large quantities of C4 tiger nuts, and this food would have contained sufficiently high amounts of minerals and vitamins, and the fatty acids that would have been particularly important for the hominin brain. […]
Tiger nuts, which are rich in starches, are highly abrasive in an unheated state. Dr Macho suggests that hominins’ teeth suffered abrasion and wear and tear due to these starches. The study finds that baboons’ teeth have similar marks, giving clues about their pattern of consumption. In order to digest the tiger nuts and allow the enzymes in the saliva to break down the starches, the hominins would need to chew the tiger nuts for a long time. All this chewing put considerable strain on the jaws and teeth, which explains why ‘Nutcracker Man’ had such a distinctive cranial anatomy.
I suspect that the abrasion observed on teeth is because 1) it was a staple food being consumed in great quantity, and 2) likely not always washed or rinsed and so abrasion was partially from soil (probiotics). Plus, if you soak the unpeeled ones as I do, for 24-48 hours, they take on a soft but snappy water chestnut texture.
But here’s the real evolutionary kicker for me, in addition to the nutrition, which we’ll cover next.
The Oxford study calculates a hominin could extract sufficient nutrients from a tiger nut-based diet – i.e. around 10,000 kilojoules or 2,000 calories a day, or 80% of their required daily calorie intake – in two and half to three hours. This fits comfortably within the foraging time of five to six hours per day typical for a large-bodied primate. [emphasis added]
Consider that an average male gorilla eats 50 pounds of leafy and stalky plant matter per day. Scale that to your own weight, then figure how much time it would take you. So, the question arrises to me:
Are H. sapiens big brains and small guts an evolutionary product of high density nutrition, or free time?
What happens when you have more discretionary time? Or, perhaps more poignantly: what happens when members of a society have more free time? You could describe lots of things but creativity rather encompasses all, and is not the human story one of creativity? Freed from having to literally spend all waking hours pursuing and eating food, we’re unique; the consequences are manifest all around us.
So, in a primitive hominin setting, we’re talking about free time that changes social structures: ushers in collaboration in foraging, tool development and use, and enhances various division of labor dynamics including the trapping and hunting of animals—all kinds of those things that contribute to a growth in intelligence and brain size. Don’t forget that we’re talking time scales in the millions of years.
So, I don’t think it’s any longer an easy answer of: we scavenged predator kills for marrow and brain, and grew big brains. I think it means that starch is also an inexorable piece of that evolution. It’s perhaps not the only answer, but it’s decidedly a big piece of the puzzle for anyone looking honestly.
The Root Nutrition
The most glaring aspect of the overall nutrition is its macronutrient partitioning. First, let’s look at mammalian breast milk in general, a rule of thumb I always think is smart to keep in mind:
- 50 – 60% fat
- 25 – 40% carbohydrate
- 5 – 20% protein
- 51% fat
- 42% carbohydrate
- 7% protein
Human breast milk:
- 51% fat
- 39% carbohydrate
- 6% protein
Perhaps these Tigernuts were misnamed, and ought to have been called Tigermilk?
Moving onto micronutrients, all the detailed charts are in this previous post, but in summary:
- Of 18 core micronutrients, Tigernuts (a tuber) outweigh potatoes in 16 of them (Vit C the only thing potatoes have more of) and in one, neither have any (B12).
- Compared with red meat, Tigernuts outweigh beef in 10 of them, are less in 5, and in 2 (Vitamin A, B12) have none. Vitamin D is listed as “trace” in beef, but that’s as good as none.
So, Tigernuts are more nutritious—in 56% of nutrients—over red meat (beef liver is a different story—Tigernuts being more nutritious in only 22% of nutrients). I remind you, folks: we’re talking about a plant here, a starchy tuber: more nutritious in vitamins and minerals than red meat generally. And, did I mention? It’s a starchy tuber. Moreover, it’s more reliable and far easier to harvest than just about anything you can hunt or fish.
The Root of Eating and Drinking These Tubers
I’ve recently come across a new purveyor of Tigernuts. They graciously sponsored this post and sent me their products.
Currently, the available product lineup is Organic Raw Tigernuts, Organic Tigernut Flour, Organic Cold-pressed Tigernut Oil, and Horchata de chuffa, made from Tigernuts. In terms of the Horchata, it’s currently only available in NYC area Whole Foods. I got all the flavors, via a shipped cold pack; and in response to my admonishment after tasting, they are working on making that option available to anyone, via their own website.
Let me tell you: both Beatrice and I loved the Unsweetened the best, more than Original that’s lightly sweetened (with non-gmo organic California medjool dates). We also loved the Chai. But my personal favorite was the Coffee. Perhaps the most delicious and lite iced coffee I’ve ever had.
One issue in terms of a marketable horchata product is that there’s sediment. This is resistant starch—behaves exactly the same way as if you’d dumped a tsp of potato starch into it. Once it settles, it settles pretty firmly. The company is weighing where to go with that: “clean” it up for the consumer, or tout the benefits. I’ve advised them to get rooted now, as it is, then later make a sterile version for the other 90% of pampered America.
In terms of RS content, here’s the go-to source for you geeks. Basically, an RS profile similar to maize, perhaps about half of raw potato by weight. However, this is a good thing because as a raw food, more readily digestible starch for energy is better. Or, to put it another way, you’ll get a lot more resistant starch from raw tigernuts than you will from anything else that’s cooked and cooled I’m aware of.
Or, you could make your own. If you get hooked, they’ll get you a 27.5 lbs Bag. You can really knock yourself out.
I followed a standard recipe (Google it, pick your fav) but with a serious twist. I added no nothing. I just did the Tigernuts and water (no sugar). I had an interesting result.
Previously, I had experimented with soaking them. I don’t want peeled ones, but I’m interested in ways where you can soak the whole ones and get various results. So, I did. Up to 48 hours. It was at the end of that last soak where I serendipitously decided to make horchata. Here’s the deal: recipes call for 8-12 hour soakings. This was two days. Folks who soak legumes are well familiar with the bubbles that form on the surface of the water after a day or so. Fermentation. Those are bacteria farts.
I had tons of this with these Tigernuts. Bubbles all over.
What did I get, once I discarded the soaking liquid, rinsed, ground, added fresh water and strained? Something resembling kefir. And it got better with age. When I finished the batch, I tasted and noted not too much sweet, but a slight hint of sour. I put that bottle in the fridge for a whole day before touching it and when I popped it, it popped big. Fermentation. It continued to pop each time I opened it. Carbon dioxide, no doubt.
…I once made a batch of kefir that was so powerful, it self carbonated and had a slight fiz to it. Now I’m wondering if I can naturally carbonate Tigernuts by perhaps using the soaking liquid, perhaps adding just a bit of sugar. Suggestions welcome.
That said, the next batch I do will be with the standard 12-hr soak, just to see if anyone can make it in the standard way, get the standard result.
…Now, folks who’ve followed me for a long time know my adversity to nut flours. I used them early on in my Paleo journey, but then realized that they are very high in omega-6 fats, a polyunsaturated fat that oxidizes easily—not to mention the balance that ought exist between pro-infalamatory n-6, and anti-inflammatory n-3. Nuts, except for macadamia (ref: Fat Bread), are extraordinarily high in n-6, while being low in n-3. Nuts ought be eaten whole, in my view, not concentrated into flours.
Except for Tigetnut flour! It’s actually one of the first documented flours. Egyptians used it to make bread.
@OurTrueRoots has just released their Organic Tigernut Flour to market. I got a preview. Given all the “Paleo” brownies in the universe, I decided to make a somewhat closer version. I’ve never baked a brownie or cookie in my 53 years, so, I just Googled a standard, highly rated brownie recipe and did 3 things different:
- Half the sugar called for
- Substitute all wheat flour for Tigernut flour
- Chopped up half a bar of 80% cacao dark chocolate and added to the batter
They were still too sweet for me, making my next excursion a sugar-free one. Tigernuts are naturally quite sweet, so this should really focus the minds of some of you “Paleo” bakers out there. That said, they were…brownies. I seriously doubt there would be a statistical significance in a blind-taste-test against standard, wheat flour brownies.
I will make a prediction: within a year, nobody will be using nut flours for baked “Paleo Treats.” They’ll be using this—a tuber flour and I’ll be a little less outraged. Incidentally, the flour is raw. The tigernuts are sun dried and ground up. That’s it.
There’s one additional product that might interest you, Organic Cold-pressed Tigernut Oil.
To my mind, this is going to be their biggest hit, after the flour. The fat profile is roughly similar to olive oil, without the Italian Mafia fraud. Everyone ought resolve to never purchase another ounce of Italian “olive” oil. I don’t. I buy Greek (and it’s superior on every level anyway).
But this is quite a different thing, not better or worse. I only cook with animal fats, coconut and palm oils, owing to the paucity of PUFA. Olive and now, Tigernut oil, get used raw.
And on that score, this one really makes the grade. I have tested it with a little vinegar on lettuce, and a water cracker dipped in it. High marks on both. It’s difficult to say much more, simply because oil is such an ubiquitous commodity. I’d simply say that you’ll want to be having this in your kitchen tool bag, along with the Greek EVOO.
You can see more cooking applications here, with pictures: breaded liver, trout, and an emulsification with the oil.
This post had been brought to you by Our True Roots. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I got into writing it.