By Dan Burden, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Revised December 2011 by Diane Huntrods, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Chufa (chew fa), a Spanish word meaning "ground almond," is also known as tiger nut, earth chestnut, earth almond, yellow nutgrass, ground almond and rush nut. The plant is cultivated today in China, Spain and West Africa. Currently, in the central and southern United States, chufa is used for wildlife habitat improvement, particularly as a winter food source for deer and wild turkeys, but is also planted for wild hogs and waterfowl. Both chufa and an undesirable wild relative, purple nutsedge, are considered important food sources for migratory birds.
The origin of chufa is not clear. Historically, it was an important food crop in ancient Egypt. The majority of traditional and new uses center on the Mediterranean region. This sedge comes from Asia Minor, where it has been considered a delicacy for millennia. Because the plant's mechanical cultivation has not been refined, chufa is little used as a food plant in most developed countries.
Chufa is a very fast growing perennial grass-like plant from the rush family (Cyperaceae) and is very easily grown in warm climates in moist or wet soils. Chufa can thrive in a variety of soils but does best in moderately to well-drained sandy or loamy soils with a pH range of 5 to 7.5. Chufa tubers can remain dormant up to 3.5 years.
Plant production is relatively simple. Chufa is planted in spring through summer at 35 to 50 pounds per acre. In southern parts of the United States, it is planted from April through July. In colder climates, it is planted in June. The common planting rate by broadcasting is 50 pounds per acre, while it is 35 pounds per acre by drilling. Most food plots are planted at 8 to 12 pounds per 1,000 square feet. The plants mature within 100 to 125 days, and the tubers mature approximately 110 to 120 days post emergence. If chufa is planted in the summer, it requires a 90- to 110-day growing period. The tubers usually measure 1/2 to 3/4 inches long. Commercial chufa varieties cannot successfully overwinter in most central and northern states and require replanting. Weed control is essential for successful establishment of chufa.
If used for wildlife or livestock feed, the tubers are usually not harvested and are left in the ground for animal forage. The nuts weigh about 44 pounds per bushel with oil yields from 0.5 to 1.5 tons per hectare. Typically, a dry weight analysis of the tubers yields: 11 to 17.5 percent sugar; 23 to 31 percent fatty acids (primarily as triacylglycerol); 6.5 to 12 percent proteins; 25 to 40 percent starch; vitamins A, D2, E and B1; the minerals calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, copper and iron and several beneficial enzymes.
The small round tubers found along the roots have a slightly almond flavor and are eaten raw, cooked or made into the traditional drink called horchata. In Spain and Mexico, horchata is served in health spas, pubs and restaurants. It is described as being reminiscent of coconut and pineapple. The plant's tubers contain 20 to 28 percent of their mass in the form of a non-drying oil. The oil is obtained by pressing the cleaned tubers in the same manner as traditional olive oil extraction. The oil has a mild, pleasant flavor, and as a food oil, is considered to be similar, but of superior quality, to olive oil. Industrial applications for the oil include high-value applications for cosmetics (perfume carriers) and instrument lubricants. There is increasing interest in chufa for health food and similar products. Due to Spanish cultural influences, chufa "nuts" also are available in markets and as processed products in most of Mexico.
Traditionally in the United States, at the beginning of the last century, many farmers, particularly sharecroppers in Florida and Georgia, planted an acre of chufa each fall to fatten their hogs. Records indicate that in 1944 chufa was grown on about 2,000 farms, mostly in Florida. In 1941 7,000 acres were planted for hog pasture in Florida. By the 1980s, chufa was still grown for livestock feed on a few farms in the Florida Panhandle. This fodder is said to make especially tasty pork. The tubers also made tasty snacks for the farm family during the winter and were processed into fine, powdery flour. This usually was substituted at a rate of one-half chufa flour to store-purchased wheat flour in bread and other recipes.
The United Nations considers chufa an "under-researched" food plant. Currently, chufa's greatest potential as a value-added agricultural crop is as a "seed crop" where tubers are harvested, bagged and marketed for wildlife habitat improvement, although products for North American snack foods and specialty oil markets have not been investigated. The present lack of a mechanical harvesting technology may limit the potential of developing these and other markets.
- Chufa, Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, 2009.
- Chufa Biology and Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, The School of Natural Resources, University of Missouri, 1991.
- Chufa: Turkey Gold, Wildlife Bulletin no. 7, National Wild Turkey Federation - This bulletin gives details on production and cultivation aspects of chufa. The federation sells chufa seeds through the Habitat Enhancement Land Program (HELP) project at competitive prices.
- Cyprus Knee Chufa, North Carolina - This seed business, one of the largest producers of chufa in the United States, is part of Lassiter Farms, a 5,500-acre family farm. Its mission is to preserve wildlife habitats for the future.
- Thomas Farms, Florida - This 4th-generation family farm was established in 1946. It is one of the largest producers of chufa in the United States. The business produces chufa seed, which it markets to individuals and seed companies.
- Wildlifeseeds.com, Florida - This company produces seeds primarily for wildlife habitat enrichment plantings, marketing the Wild Game Brand product. Seedland.com and Farmseeds.com are divisions of Seedland, Inc.
- Yellow Nutsedge (Chufa), Ojos Negros Research Group, San Diego State University - Description of the yellow nutsedge or chufa, historical uses, propagation information and cautions regarding control of the plant as a noxious weed.
Links checked November 2013.