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Skull of ‘Nutcracker Man’ or Paranthropus boisei. The image is of Olduvai Hominid 5 (OH 5), the most famous of the early human fossils, which was found at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. (Credit: Courtesy of Donald C Johanson)

Topic: Evidence ancient man ate Tiger Nuts
An Oxford University study has concluded that our ancient ancestors who lived in East Africa between 2.4 million-1.4 million years ago survived mainly on a diet of tiger nuts. Tiger nuts are edible grass bulbs still eaten in parts of the world today. The study published in the journal, PLOS ONE, also suggests that these early hominins may have sought additional nourishment from fruits and invertebrates, like worms and grasshoppers.

Study author Dr Gabriele Macho examined the diet of Paranthropus boisei, nicknamed “Nutcracker Man” because of his big flat molar teeth and powerful jaws, through studying modern-day baboons in Kenya. Her findings help to explain a puzzle that has vexed archaeologists for 50 years.

Scholars have debated why this early human relative had such strong jaws, indicating a diet of hard foods like nuts, yet their teeth seemed to be made for consuming soft foods. Damage to the tooth enamel also indicated they had come into contact with an abrasive substance. Previous research using stable isotope analyses suggests the diet of these homimins was largely composed of C4 plants like grasses and sedges. However, a debate has raged over whether such high-fibre foods could ever be of sufficiently high quality for a large-brained, medium-sized hominin.

Dr Macho’s study finds that baboons today eat large quantities of C4 tiger nuts, and this food would have contained sufficiently high amounts of minerals, vitamins, and the fatty acids that would have been particularly important for the hominin brain. Her finding is grounded in existing data that details the diet of year-old baboons in Amboseli National Park in Kenya — a similar environment to that once inhabited by Paranthropus boisei. Dr Macho’s study is based on the assumption that baboons intuitively select food according to their needs. She concludes that the nutritional demands of a hominin would have been quite similar.

Dr Macho modified the findings of the previous study on baboons by Stuart Altmann (1998) on how long it took the year-old baboons to dig up tiger nuts and feed on various C4 sources. She calculated the likely time taken by hominins, suggesting that it would be at least twice that of the yearling baboons once their superior manual dexterity was taken into account. Dr Macho also factored in the likely calorie intake that would be needed by a big-brained human relative.

Tiger nuts, which are rich in starches, are highly abrasive in an unheated state. Dr Macho suggests that hominins’ teeth suffered abrasion and wear and tear due to these starches. The study finds that baboons’ teeth have similar marks giving clues about their pattern of consumption.

In order to digest the tiger nuts and allow the enzymes in the saliva to break down the starches, the hominins would need to chew the tiger nuts for a long time. All this chewing put considerable strain on the jaws and teeth, which explains why “Nutcracker Man” had such a distinctive cranial anatomy.

The Oxford study calculates a hominin could extract sufficient nutrients from a tiger nut- based diet, i.e. around 10,000 kilojoules or 2,000 calories a day — or 80% of their required daily calorie intake, in two and half to three hours. This fits comfortably within the foraging time of five to six hours per day typical for a large-bodied primate.

Dr Macho, from the School of Archaeology at Oxford University, said: ‘I believe that the theory — that “Nutcracker Man” lived on large amounts of tiger nuts- helps settle the debate about what our early human ancestor ate. On the basis of recent isotope results, these hominins appear to have survived on a diet of C4 foods, which suggests grasses and sedges. Yet these are not high quality foods. What this research tells us is that hominins were selective about the part of the grass that they ate, choosing the grass bulbs at the base of the grass blade as the mainstay of their diet.

‘Tiger nuts, still sold in health food shops as well as being widely used for grinding down and baking in many countries, would be relatively easy to find. They also provided a good source of nourishment for a medium-sized hominin with a large brain. This is why these hominins were able to survive for around one million years because they could successfully forage — even through periods of climatic change.’

Original article:
sciencedaily

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Topic: TigerNuts History and recipes

History

Tiger nuts are the edible tubers (also sometimes called fruits or grains), found at the end of the root system of Cyperus grass (Cyperus  esculentus L.). A member of the sedge family, along with its better-known cousin, papyrus, Cyperus Grass grows in marshy areas such as the Delta region ( in ancient times) or well irrigated areas. These tiger nuts, called Hab’el aziz in Arabic were a great source of nutrition in Egypt since at least the 5th millennium B.C. According to Tackholm, V. and Drar, M.  in  Flora of Egypt, vol II, first published in 1950 and again in 1973, it was believed by them to be the most ancient of foods found in Egypt after Emmer and Barley. Illustrations of Cyperus Grass are found in many tombs and it was even discovered in the stomachs of pre-dynastic mummies by F. Netolitzki, in The Ancient Egyptians and their influence on the Civilization of Europe by G. Elloit-Smith. 

Specimens from many sites in Egypt can be found at the Agricultural Museum of Dokki, in Cairo.

There is a great deal of debate among Egyptologists as to the ancient name assigned to this plant. Gywis the name it is normally given however the Ebers papyrus speaks of a medicine it calls “ grains of mnwh also called snw-tMnwh is the plural form of mnh, papyrus or sedge, such as Cyperus. Greek scholars, Theophrastus and Pliny associated the name of several different plants with C. esculentus (or tiger nuts).

Malinathalle was one of the plants mentioned by Theophrastus as being boiled in barley beer and then eaten as a sweetmeat. This sounds similar to the above recipe except a bit more intoxicating.

The Ancient Egyptians also used this plant for medical purposes.

They prescribed the plant in mixtures for everything from; mouth chews, enemata, dressings, ointments, to fumigations, designed to sweeten the smells of the house or clothes. In the latter form it was used with myrrh. When you consider that the Ancient Egyptians ate this plant as well as using it in their medicines (as they did with so many of the plants that grew naturally or which were cultivated). They certainly got the full value of all that the Nile had to offer them.

According to Darby in Food The Gift of Osiris, C. esculentus continues to be cultivated to this day in Egypt (most likely in the Delta region). Beyond Egypt the Arabs carried it to North Africa, Sicily and Spain.  Called Chufa in Spain it is made into a popular drink. In Egypt the tuber is ground and used in breads in addition to producing oil used in ointments and cosmetics. Finally the residue is used as fodder for animals.

Wikipedia says this on tiger nuts as a food:

The tubers are edible, with a slightly sweet, nutty flavour, compared to the more bitter-tasting tuber of the related Cyperus rotundus (purple nutsedge). They are quite hard, and are generally soaked in water before they can be eaten, thus making them much softer and giving them a better texture. They have various uses; in particular, they are used in Spain to make horchata. They are sometimes known by their Spanish name, chufa.

Tigernuts have excellent nutritional qualities, with a fat composition similar to olives and a rich mineral content, especially phosphorus and potassium. The oil of the tuber was found to contain 18% saturated (palmitic acid and stearic acid) and 82% unsaturated (oleic acid and linoleic acid) fatty acids.

Today besides human use in drinks and baked goods, Chufa( tiger nuts), are used as fish bate and food for wild turkeys, ducks, deer and hogs-who could imagine.

Such an ancient plant it is known in addition to the name tiger nut, as earth chestnut, earth almond, yellow nut grass, ground almond and rush nut. The plant is cultivated today in China, Spain and West Africa and the U,S.

Recipes:

Chafa seed-tigernuts

First from Ancient Egypt

Tiger nut Sweets

Grind a quantity of tiger nuts in a mortar.

Sift the flour carefully.

To the ground tiger nuts add a bowl of honey and mix to a dough.

Transfer the dough to a shallow metal (?) vessel. Place on top of the fire and add a little fat. Boil over a gentle fire until a firm paste is obtained. It must smell roasted not burnt.

Cool and shape into tall conical loaves.

According to An Ancient Egyptian Herbal by Lise Manniche, the loaves from the above recipe were made as a special offering instituted by the king for every feast anew (or alike). This recipe was on the tomb walls of Rekhmire, vizier of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (Eighteenth Dynasty) from the fifth century BC. Ms. Manniche’s translation comes from pictures on the tomb walls themselves.

These loaves called Shat were a highly valued temple offering.

Egyptian Food and Drink by Hilary Wilson also cites the bakery scene in Rekhmire’s tomb as showing the stages of preparation of triangle loaves, also made with ground tiger nuts and sweetened with dates and honey.

From modern day Spain here is a recipe for Horchata made from Chura (tiger nuts).

Horchata is a drink that is made from extracting the flavor from different nuts depending on the desired taste.  Horchata from Chufas is a very popular and refreshing summer drink in the region of Valencia, Spain where many acres are grown for that purpose.  Chufas and Horchata were brought to Spain by the Moors when they came in the eighth century.  The Spanish brought them to the New World.

Horchata from Chufa

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. Chufas
1 lb. Sugar
2.5 Quarts of Water
1 Cinnamon Stick

Clean the chufas well by rubbing them between your hands while rinsing them in clean water.  Repeat until chufas are clean (rinse water remains clean when chufas are rubbed between your hands).

Cover with 4 inches of water and soak for 12 to 14 hours.

After soaking, rinse the chufas again in clean water, changing the water until it is completely clear, then drain off all the water.

Mash the chufas or put them in a blender – to make them into a soft paste. Add a little water if needed.

Add the 2.5 quarts of water to the paste that you have made and put in the cinnamon stick. Let it sit in a cool place (like a fridge) for 2 hours.

Add the sugar and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Strain the mix through a mesh filter to remove the larger particles, and then through a damp fine-cloth filter.  If the cloth filter did not strain the liquid enough, there are two options here:

a.) Repeat until the strained liquid does not have any large particles left.

b.) Fold or double fold your damp cloth filter and pass the liquid through the filter slowly.

The smooth milky liquid can be served as is, placed in the fridge to be served chilled later or placed in the freezer, stirring occasionally to prevent it from freezing solid, and served in slushy form.

References:

Darby, W: Food gift of Osiris

Manniche, L: An Ancient Egyptian Herbal

Wilson, H: Egyptian Food and Drink

Wikipedia

Chafa.com-Glendale Enterprises

Original Article:

Bu Joanna Linsley-Poe

copyright 2012

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