Acorns: Not just for squirrels!

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You’ve all probably seen our logo with our self-reliant squirrel eating her acorn, but have you ever considered eating acorns yourself?

Many children try eating acorns growing up and find them to be incredibly bitter. The compounds in acorns that give them this bitter taste are called tannins or tannic acid. These compounds are the same ones used for tanning hides (hence the term “tanning”). Tannins not only taste bitter, but can cause nausea and vomiting. The good news is that tannins are very soluble, which means that steeping the acorn meat in hot water will leach the tannins out. And remember, the smaller the ‘cap’ on an acorn, the less tannin is in the nut. Once the tannins have been removed, acorns can make for a healthy and delicious wilderness snack!

acorns

Oaks fall into two major categories, those that fruit in one season, white oaks, and those that fruit after two seasons, the black oaks and the red oaks. Black and red oaks are much more bitter than the former. The first category has leaves with round lobes and no prickles at the end of the leaves. The black and red oaks have prickles at the end of their leaves. They also  have scales on the cups of the acorns, hair inside the caps, and a sheath around the nut.

First you must separate the acorns by dropping them into water. Discard the ones that float.  Take the ones that sink and dry them in a frying pan on the stove or in the oven at 150F or less for 15 minutes, preheated. Or put them in the sun for a few days. They need to dry off so the nut shrinks inside, which makes them easier to shell.

The yield, not counting bad acorns, is 2:1. two gallons of usable acorns in the shell will yield a gallon of nutmeat. We must leach out the tannic acid as it can damage our kidneys. Most unleached acorns are too bitter to eat without leaching.

One of the simplest methods of preparing acorns is roasting them, either in the oven or over an open fire. Roast until they are dry and begin to brown.  Roasted acorns can be salted or eaten plain, and can replace peanuts or other nuts in some of your favorite recipe (especially trail mix!)

Another interesting use for acorns is as an outdoor coffee substitute. Simply roast chunks of acorn until they are dark brown in color but not burned. Place a tablespoon of the roasted chunks in a glass of hot water and allow it to steep for 10 to 15 minutes. While not as delicious as a Starbucks latte, acorn “coffee” has a similar flavor and can be made in the wild.

Ground acorns also make a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour. This acorn flour can be used in place of wheat flour in most recipes. However, since acorn flour lacks gluten, bread, cakes or cookies will be more crumbly than usual.

Acorns are an abundant natural resource that are often overlooked. Acorns are a great source of vitamin B, protein and complex carbohydrates. Acorns are quite nutritious. For example, the nutritional breakdown of acorns from the Q. alba, — the white oak — is 50.4% carbohydrates, 34.7% water, 4.7% fat, 4.4.% protein, 4.2% fiber, 1.6% ash. A pound of shelled acorns provide 1,265 calories, a 100 grams (3.5 ounces) has 500 calories and 30 grams of oil.

You’ll find acorns in the Fall, but you need to start hunting down your prime oak and acorn crop now.