At Tourne-Sol farm, we drill our apprentices in the importance of efficiency, profitability and priority setting. So it’s understandable that our apprentices thought it was a hoot when we spent part of an afternoon on hands and knees riffling through the soil for bean-sized chufa tubers.
Still, I love these nuts and make a point of growing them for our seed catalogue and especially to snack on.
MEETING THE CHUFA NUT
Chufa nuts are also called tiger nuts or earth almonds. They have a nutty taste similar to coconuts that gets sweeter as they dry.
They are sometimes mistaken for yellow nutsedge (an invasive weed on many farms). In fact, chufa and yellow nutsedge are both varieties of Cyperus esculentus but with a couple key differences:
- chufa tubers are a touch bigger than yellow nutsedge
- chufa plants (and tubers) frost kill and therefore don’t overwinter in our Quebec climate
I’ll repeat that, chufa nuts are NOT invasive where the ground freezes heavily. Of course, before planting any chufa, make sure you aren’t buying mislabelled yellow nutsedge.
Chufa look like this (though a bit smaller):
GROWING CHUFA NUTS
Chufa nuts are usually propagated vegetatively. That means you plant a chufa nut to grow a chufa plant. (They don’t seem to set seed on our farm.)
This is how we plant chufa
- Wait till after last spring frost (end of May for us)
- Soak chufa nuts in water for 24 hours
- Plant one inch deep
- Space plants one foot apart from each other
- Wait 1-2 to weeks to see first shoots emerge
After a few years of wrestling with weedy chufa plots, I now place a stick upright beside each planted chufa nut. This way I know where to weed (and not to weed) as I wait to see the chufa plants.
A month or so later, the chufa plants are about 4″ tall. (This year, I tried intercropping a row of Korean shiso between two chufa rows.)
Mid summer, the chufa is nearing full height though the plants will keep growing in width. (At this point, I started to suspect that the Korean shiso’s growth habits might overcome the chufa.)
By early September, the Shiso was dominating the chufa.
At the end of September, when some of the leaves start browning and weather reports post frost warnings, it’s harvest time!
We dig the plants out with trowels.
Then pull the tubers off the plant and dig around in the soil for any that might have been missed.
We toss the nuts and a fair amount of soil into a bin.
Then blast them with water in a spaghetti colander.
DRYING, CLEANING AND STORING CHUFA
You can eat the chufa right away, though it gets sweeter as it dries down.
We spread the chufa on screens in front of fans.
Once the chufa is dry, I use seed cleaning screens to sort out the biggest chufa for next year’s seed stock. I also remove the smallest nuts, stones, and dust. After the chufa has dried for another couple week, I screen it again to remove any nuts that have shrunk since the last screening.
I store dried chufa in a paper bag at ambient temperature. It holds quite well, I have some nuts that are two years old and looking fine – though I always use the freshest stock for planting.
The easiest way is to pop in mouth and chew.
I have tried making a Spanish beverage called Horchata de Chufa where you soak the nuts for 12 hours with a cinnamon stick, then blend the nuts with water (remove cinnamon), strain the ensuing mixture, add sugar to taste, and drink. I wound up with something rather lumpy though not unpleasant. I’ll have to try it again.
Supposedly, ground chufa flower can also be used for baking though I can’t vouch for that.
These days, we’re pretty much finished in the field. I just got back from giving crop planning workshops in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Olds, Alberta and now I’m switching gears to get into my own own crop planning.
The next couple posts, I’ll catch up on more seedy highlights from the last growing season!