This Horchata Ingredient Has Amazing Health Benefits

Horchata is a sweet beverage with several adaptations depending on where you're drinking it. Mexican versions are usually made from rice, and interestingly, the Spanish kind uses tiger nuts (via The Spruce Eats). If it's the first time you've heard of tiger nuts, they haven't yet fully blown into the mainstream food market like other exotic ingredients such as açaí or chia seeds. While they have no relation to tigers (the name comes from their striped appearance) or nuts (they're in the tuber family), they do pack in an impressive array of nutritious characteristics (via Healthline). So whether you try them in a Spanish horchata or buy a bag as a snack, you should consider adding them to your diet. 

While they may be new to some people, tiger nuts have been found in 6000-year-old Egyptian tombs (via Superfoodly). According to Forbes, they made their way to other parts of Northern Africa before reaching the Iberian Peninsula, where records of Spanish horchata date back to the 18th century. Not only were they used as a food source by ancient civilizations, but they were also considered for their healing qualities. On the outside, they don't look like much. Besides their tiger-like stripes, they are wrinkly and about the size of a chickpea. Texturally they are a bit hard with a chewy center, depending on whether they are soaked, raw, or cooked. More importantly, the flavor is described as sweet and nutty, reminiscent of coconut and almonds.

Why should you eat them?

Besides this unique blend of flavors, Healthline reports that tiger nuts are high in vitamins E and C, iron, phosphorous, zinc, and magnesium. The source notes that the fiber content is noteworthy, composed of insoluble and resistant starch fiber, both great at assisting digestive flow. Additionally, dietitian Gina Consalvo tells Good Housekeeping that these fibers are thought to act like a prebiotic and promote healthy bacteria in your gut. Consalvo explains that they also help regulate blood sugar, making tiger nuts a good low-calorie option to feel satisfied. As always with foods high in fiber, add them slowly to your diet, and stay hydrated to avoid digestive discomfort.

More than half the fat in tiger nuts is monounsaturated, which is associated with heart and cholesterol health. Forbes points out that they are also high in antioxidants, which can reduce chronic inflammation and cancer risk. To absorb the benefits more easily, try germinating or roasting the tuber. While more research on the matter should be done, Healthline remarks that some antibacterial activity in tiger nuts has been observed, suggesting they might support immune function. The outlet also mentions their common use in Ayurvedic medicine as an aphrodisiac.

Besides consuming them in "milk" form like horchata, tiger nuts can be ground into flour for baking, used as a crunchy topping or snack, or added to granola or a nut mix. Versatile and packed with benefits, tiger nuts are worth a try!