“Superfood” is a tricky term. In the eyes of the American consumer, superfoods definitely exist. Consider: by 2025, the market value of superfoods is expected to reach $65 billion. There are now aisles at the grocery store dedicated to the concept, and superfood experts with best-selling books.
But neither the FDA, the USDA, nor the European Food Safety Authority officially recognizes the designation. Its definition is nebulous: depending on whom you ask or what brand you’re buying, literally anything that’s “nutrient-rich” could be considered a superfood. It’s a marketer’s dream. If you’re a consumer, it’s your job to put in a bit of homework (e.g., understand that when a blueberry oatmeal has organic cane sugar listed as its third ingredient, it probably isn’t a superfood) and even when you have correctly identified a special fruit, vegetable or grain, appreciate that it’s just one piece of a much larger puzzle.
As the adage I just made up goes, eating a bowl of legumes once a day can’t single-handedly salvage a diet built on Chik-Fil-A. Superfoods are at their most effective when they’re super together, as part of a balanced, holistic commitment to smart choices. Oh, and, they can’t cure cancer. The medical community is rightfully upset about those bogus claims.
All that said, we’re allowed to get excited about high-quality ingredients. Whether you call them “super” or not, it’s true that some foods are absolutely stuffed with things that will help your body perform better over time. The Western pattern diet is typified by red meat, potatoes, refined grains, butter and high-fat dairy products. When trend ingredients are introduced or reintroduced to that paradigm, people can get a little silly (the turmeric craze, for instance) and prices can get a little high, but at least the breadth of dietary options expands.
The latest food to help that expansion along: tiger nuts. According to online trend forecaster Exploding Topics, tiger nuts have seen a 2.8x increase in interest over the last five years. If you’re confused why you’ve never seen one in the grab-bag nut aisle, that’s because it actually isn’t a nut — it’s a tuber, which is the underground bud at the end of a plant’s stem. (Similar to sweet potatoes, or cassava). Also known as a chufa, yellow nutsedge, atadwe or “earth almond,” tiger nuts are the edible tubers of the chufa sedge plant, which can be found all over the world but is commonly grown in the equatorial Eastern Hemisphere.
They are very good for you. While only about the size of a pinto bean, a one-ounce serving of tiger nuts offers seven grams of fiber, nine grams of healthy fats, up to 40% of your daily iron needs and a menagerie of other vitamins and minerals, like phosphorous, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, potassium and calcium. It’s a vitamin E stud, meanwhile, supplying nearly 300% of your daily value in a single serving. Vitamin E is one of the best antioxidants for bolstering the immune system — it fights off infections, slows down cell aging and has random fringe benefits like protecting one’s eyesight.
The list goes on. Tiger nut consumption has been tied to gut health; the tubers contain insoluble fiber, which gives you a bulkier stool (sorry for the image, but it makes the whole business easier) and enzymes that will help you control your gas. They’ve also been linked to a reduction in blood sugar levels, improved heart health and an increase in libido.
If they’re so great, why are they only starting to get attention recently? Well, their come-up actually illustrates a positive subset of superfood mania — its capacity to shine a light on under-appreciated (often foreign) ingredients, then apply them to diets in a way that appeals to contemporary eaters. For example, people who have to follow the auto-immune protocol (AIP) in order to reduce inflammation caused by conditions like lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease or rheumatoid arthritis are not able to eat butters derived from nuts, like peanut butter or almond butter.
But they can eat tiger nut butter. It’s a far cry from the tiger nut’s Old World roots (in Spain, it’s used to make a milky horchata, and in Egypt it’s long been roasted and eaten as a snack or confectionary), but that versatility, in addition to its impressive nutritional stat sheet, is just another reason why we might consider it “super.” Tiger nuts are now available in butter form — check out this option from a brand called ROOTS — or as a ground flour, which can be mixed with coconut oil and cinnamon to make a home-grown butter. You could also just dump the whole thing into a morning smoothie. Making these foodstuffs available in different forms helps tear down the intimidation barriers that keep us from trying new things.
Ultimately, unless you’re under strict instructions from a doctor, trying your hand at fad diets every couple months is a poor recipe for healthy, sustainable eating. But trying out a fad food, singular, can be a good thing. There is no elixir of life in the food pyramid, but there are so many small, efficient workhorses that can assist you in achieving the things your doctor frets about at your physical each year, like improving blood circulation or cutting a few pounds. A super tuber isn’t going to solve all your problems, but it’s as good a place as any to start addressing them.
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