Tiger nuts: Are they worth chewing?

BY: Kofi Yeboah

If you are a regular consumer of tiger nuts (or what is locally known as atadwe), then you may not suffer from many health problems like cardiovascular diseases, stroke, prostate and colon cancers, hernia, abnormal menstruation and fibrosis.

Known botanically as Cyperus esculentus and in some communities as ‘body charge’, tiger nuts also serve as a powerful aphrodisiac and they help to prevent rectum deformation and prolapse.

These are only a tip of the iceberg of the usefulness of tiger nuts, given the fact that the tuber crop that is sometimes confused as weed has enormous nutritional and medicinal value that many people do not know.

In some countries, particularly Spain, the tiger nuts industry is a big one, with regulatory authorities set up to ensure the quality production of the tuber.

Ghana News Headlines

For latest news in Ghana, visit Graphic Online news headlines page Ghana news page

But in Ghana, everything about tiger nut is left in the hands of poor farmers and traders and small-scale industrialists, without government support.

According to Ms Rebecca Fanyima Ahun, a Ghanaian nutritionist, paying attention to tiger nuts production can help address many of the country’s nutritional and health needs.

REGISTER: Graphic Business Stanbic Bank Breakfast Meeting

“The development of a beverage from tiger nuts would have a great potential in a developing country such as Ghana, where most of its milk and milk products are imported,” she notes in an academic research on the “Suspension Stability, Texture and Colour of Tiger Nuts (Cyperus esculentus) Beverage” submitted to the Department of Biochemistry of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in July 1996 for the award of a Master of Science degree.

Many people in Ghana have vague knowledge about the nutritional, medicinal and other values of atadwe; at best, they know it only as an aphrodisiac.

Even ‘atadwe’ farmers and sellers do not have a full grasp of the nutritional and medicinal value of tiger nuts, except to say they cleanse the blood and strengthen the waist.

“They strengthen every vein in the body; that is why they are called ‘body charge’,” Philo, an atadwe seller at Nkawkaw, remarks.

Some people hide to chew tiger nuts because they want to avoid taunts by friends that they are charging their ‘system’ for an upcoming ‘match.’

But tiger nuts hold enormous economic prospects that could change the fortunes of poor ‘atadwe’ farmers and sellers.

They also offer immense nutritional value that could impact positively on the health of many people.

Unfortunately, whereas the usefulness of tiger nuts is many and varied, the real value is largely untapped in Ghana.

Tiger nuts are considered as healthy because they can help prevent many health conditions such as heart disease and thrombosis, apart from activating blood circulation and reducing the risk of colon cancer.

Information sourced from the web search engine, Wikipedia, indicates that tiger nut is also rich in energy content such as starch, fat, sugar and protein, as well as minerals such as phosphorus and potassium.

According to a Nigerian nutritionist at the Wuse General Hospital in Abuja, Hajiya Jummai Abdul, tiger nut also contains a good quantity of vitamins such as vitamin B1 “which assists in balancing the central nervous system and helps to encourage the body to adapt to stress.”

"It supplies the body with enough quantity of Vitamin E, essential for fertility in both men and women,” she is quoted by Vanguardngr.com.

Furthermore, the oil content of the tuber is said to be good for human health, given the fact that tiger nut contains 18 per cent saturated (palmitic acid and stearic acid) and 82 per cent unsaturated (oleic acid and linoleic acid) fatty acids.

Oleic acid, according to Hajiya Jummai Abdul, helps to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride and also prevents the hardening of the arteries.

One thing about atadwe that may interest many people is fact that it can be consumed in any form - raw, roasted, dried, baked or as tiger nut milk or oil, and there is no worry about constipation because it enhances proper digestion.

The flour of roasted tiger nut could be added to biscuits and other bakery products, as well as used in making oil, soap and starch extracts.

It is also used for the production of nougat, jam, beer and as a flavouring agent in the preparation of ice cream and non-alcoholic beverages.

Tiger nuts are not only good for consumption as food; they are also useful for medicinal and cosmetic purposes.

In some countries, they are used in the treatment of flatulence, diarrhoea, dysentery, debility and indigestion.

According to Hajiya Jummai Abdul, tiger nut milk can be used to treat stomach pain, aid normal menstruation, heal mouth and gum ulcers and as a powerful aphrodisiac.

“Tiger nuts help in stress management by helping the body to stay balanced and also help to prevent fibrosis, as well as the blockage of the tip of the fallopian tube.

“The black specie of the tiger nuts is an excellent medicine for breast lumps and cancer,” she adds.

The oil produced from tiger nut is also said to help slow down the ageing of the body cells, enhances the elasticity of the skin and reduces skin wrinkles.

The value of tiger nut goes beyond food; it is also a potential source of fuel, considerd the fact that it is said to contain between 20 and 36 per cent of oil that could be used for the production of biodiesel.

But that may not be the interest of Ghana, considering the lack of priority given to the cultivation and processing of the tuber.

The nutritional potential of tiger nut may be heart-warming, but Mr Wise Chukudi Letsa, also a nutritionist, sounds a note of caution against such claim.

In his opinion, there is no good scientific research to back the claim of the health benefit of tiger nut.

He, therefore, advises people to be cautious in the consumption of atadwe because “taking too much of it can be bad.”

Tiger nuts are cultivated in many parts of the world, including Egypt, where they are consumed as an important food during the pre-dynastic times about 6000 years ago, and Spain, where it has been developed into a prized industry.

In Ghana, tiger nuts are cultivated in many parts of the country such as Bodweasae, Techiman and Kwahu.

Among all those areas, Kwahu has gained prominence as the production hub of atadwe, and, indeed, Kwahus pride themselves as being the producers of the sweetest and best atadwe in the country.

That is why, perhaps, it has become a custom for visitors to Kwahu, especially men, to carry large quantities of atadwe on their return.

But even in Kwahu, the large-scale cultivation of tiger nut can be traced to only one town – Aduamoa.

And according to Madam Akosua Boa, a tiger nuts farmer at Aduamoa, the cultivation of atadwe is an occupation bequeathed to them by their forebears.

Interestingly, although tiger nuts are known to be consumed more by males than females, the cultivation of the tuber is mostly done by females.

That is because it is a very challenging occupation and so the men, who are very lazy, are not attracted to it, according to another atadwe farmer, Madam Faustina Efua Yeboah.

Tiger nuts farmers at Kwahu cultivate the crop twice every year – during the second and third quarters.

When the Daily Graphic Team visited some of the farms at Aduamoa during the Easter period last month, the crop was at its infant stage of growth.

Akosua Boa and Efua Yeboah are concerned about the high cost of production in respect of clearing the land for planting, weeding, harvesting and washing the tubers after harvesting.

“By the time we finish and sell them, we don’t get anything out of it,” Madam Efua Yeboah notes.

Sometimes, the difficulty has to do with raising capital to pre-finance the preparation of the land for planting, for which reason the farmers are appealing to the government to assist them financially to sustain their occupation.

Even after overcoming the financial challenge, the farmers still have to battle with some insects that sometimes invade the farms and attack the growth of the crop and/or dissipate the yield.

Based on the advice of agriculture extension officers, the farmers spray insecticides on the crops to control the invasion of the insects, but according to Akosua Boa and Efua Yeboah, the cost of the insecticides is too high.

Unlike Spain, Ghana does not have a big tiger nut industry, with only a few people involved in the commercial processing of atadwe on small-scale levels.

Years after undertaking an academic research into the processing of tiger nuts, Ms Ahun and her brother, Richard Ahun, have since 2005 engaged in a small-scale commercial production of tiger nut milk.

Located at Tema Community 18, their company, Empirag, produces 2000 bottles of tiger nut milk twice a week, although it has the capacity to produce 4000 bottles in a week.

According to Richard Ahun, with increased patronage and financial support for expansion, the company can increase its production capacity.

He says the short shelf life of the tiger nut milk (two weeks) and low patronage make it imperative to produce below capacity at the moment.

Mr Ahun says Empirag purchases tiger nuts from northern Ghana and Niger because they are well-dried and high-yielding, and as such most suitable for the production of tiger nut milk.

Like the atadwe farmers, the major challenges in the processing of tiger nut milk are marketing of the beverage and inadequate capital to expand and increase production capacity.

It is obvious that tiger nuts hold enormous economic and nutritional value for the nation, and with the needed national attention and support for its production and processing, atadwe could make a lot of difference in the fortunes and health of many people in the country.

Writer’s Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.