Tiger ‘nuts’, which are in fact not nuts at all but tubors from the Cyperus Esculentus plant native to Africa, have a creamy and naturally sweet coconut flavour.
Despite ticking all the current trend boxes - they are ideal for gluten-free baking and plant-based milks and have an impressive nutritional profile - they are relatively unknown outside of Spain, where they are used to make horchata de chufa, a traditional creamy summer drink.
But Nordic Chufa, founded in 2013 by two friends, Danish-born Lis Christiansen and Spanish Maria Jose Perez Navarro, is determined to change this by transforming tiger nuts - chufa in Spanish - into the next big superfood in Denmark and beyond.
In addition to supplying flour and nuts in bulk to food manufacturers (which accounts for around 50% of its business), it also sells consumer-facing goods with its range of dried, peeled and milled tiger nuts under its own Nordic Chufa brand.
The dried nuts must be soaked overnight and can then be added to recipes, eaten whole as a snack – they retain a crispy texture – or pressed to make a plant-based milk.
Nordic Chufa buys its tiger nuts from a wholesale partner in Spain that works with farmers in Burkina Faso and Niger. Supplies are steady, reliable and certified organic,
and a fairtrade application is also currently underway, Christiansen told FoodNavigator at Bite Copenhagen last week.
From bakery to spreads
Christiansen is determined to see the product adopted by more mainstream consumers but for this to happen, consumers need to see it used in processed foods.
“We started with selling whole, dried chufa in health stores because people who shop [there] are used to soaking ingredients and doing things themselves. They are more curious. But we are trying to get more products developed using chufa flour so that everybody can see how it can be used.
“It’s not an easy product to get Danish people to eat simply because they don’t know it. But the trend right now is for vegan, gluten-free and with no allergens so it fits in well with this. You can use it as a nut – anytime you would normally use a nut in a recipe you can replace it with chufa. We have a lot of ideas for products you can make using chufa, we just need people to produce them!”
As an ingredient, it is easy to work with and is ideal for beverages, sweet and savoury baked goods and nut-style spreads. The flour can be used for gluten-free formulations, Christiansen said, but also blends well with wheat where it adds more flavour as well as boosting the nutritional profile.
One serving provides 25% of the recommended daily intake of magnesium according to Nordic nutritional guidelines and is high in calcium, potassium and vitamin B1. The tubors also pack in 15.5% fibre, including resistant starch, a prebiotic fibre that promotes a healthy microflora in the gut.
The original superfood with a story
If manufacturers like to have a story to tell consumers when launching a lesser known ingredient onto the market, tiger nuts are up to the mark.
“It is an ancient food and there are a lot of funny stories to tell about tiger nuts," Christiansen said. "For instance, our ancient predecessors were called the ‘Nutcracker Man’ and are said to have survived on chufa and insects which is why they had a bigger brain.”
Tiger nuts have also been found in the tombs of Ancient Egyptian pharaohs and some hieroglyphics depict offerings of tiger nuts to the gods. North African Moors introduced them to southern Spain around 500 years ago.
Nordic Chufa currently sells in health food shops around Denmark and is listed in major Danish supermarket Menu. It also exports to Sweden and Norway. A one-kilogram pack of dried whole tiger nuts retails for around 100 DKK (€13) while the flour sells for 150 DKK (€20).