Nigeria’s super food comes in the humble form of a small, round, chewy ‘thing’ with a sweet, milky and nutty taste pushed around by ‘mallams’ in wheelbarrows. It’s known in the Western world as Earth Almonds or Tiger nuts but the Igbos may know them better as ‘Aki Awusa’, the Hausas as ‘Aya’, and the Yorubas as ‘Imumu’.
Contrary to the name Tiger nuts, they are actually not nuts but tubers, grown mostly in the North-Western region of Nigeria. There are two commonly sold types – the fresh type and the semi-dry/dry type. The former being yellow in colour and bigger in size while the latter is brown in colour and need to be soaked in water to be enjoyed by most people.
Tiger nuts are a traditional food in Nigeria that can be consumed in various forms. They can be eaten raw as a healthy snack or made into an all-natural, delicious, milky beverage known as ‘Kunnu Aya ‘(Tiger Nut Milk), which serves as a healthy beverage or as a lactose-free alternative to dairy milk. This plant milk is also suitable for gluten-intolerant people as well as those who suffer from nut allergies.
The chaff produced when making ‘Kunnu Aya’ can be dried and used to make gluten-free flour for baking or added as extra fibre when making smoothies. Edible and stable oil that compares favourably with Olive Oil can also be gotten from Tiger nuts.
Tiger nuts are a highly nutritious plant food that contain a large number of antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals that cause the cells in the body to mutate and become cancerous. They have a high content of soluble glucose and oleic acid – which helps lower bad cholesterol and prevent heart attacks. They are also an excellent source of starch, healthy fats, sugars and protein.
Tiger nuts are rich in Vitamins B1, E, C and minerals such as phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron (as much as red meat), which are all essential for bone growth, tissue repair, muscles, body growth and general well-being.
They have a high content of dietary fibre and insoluble fibre which helps control blood sugar levels, thus preventing diabetes. They contain enzymes that aid digestion such as catalase, lipase and amylase, and are often recommended to those who suffer from constipation, indigestion, flatulence, diarrhoea and weight watchers, as they keep you feeling fuller for longer, resulting in a lower calorie intake.
As mentioned above, Tiger nuts are rich in Vitamin E, which is essential for fertility in both men and women and can help promote normal menstruation in women. Vitamin E is great for the skin as it delays cell aging, improves elasticity of the skin and reduces the appearance of wrinkles, acne and other scars. Tiger nuts are also used as an aphrodisiac in some parts of Nigeria.
Other countries in the world are known for their Tiger nuts. For instance, Tiger nuts are grown in Valencia, Spain. They are known as ‘chufa’ and are used to make a milky drink known as ‘Horchata de Chufa’ similar to ‘Kunnu Aya’. Tiger nuts can be exported to countries like China, where they are used as liver tonic or heart stimulant; and The United States of America, where they are consumed in various forms.
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