Can You Eat Acorns?
In most parts of the US, it’s hard to get through autumn without tripping over a few acorns. Acorns are widely known as winter food for squirrels, but what about humans? Can you eat acorns? The answer is a resounding yes! Acorns are a free, natural food source, and many survivalists and foragers include acorns in their diet. While some processing needs to be done to raw acorns to make them edible or useable as an ingredient, the steps are easy enough that any curious food enthusiast can do them in a home kitchen.
Move Over Squirrels — People Can Eat Acorns Too!
Acorns are the nut of the oak tree, and they are widely available in the fall as the trees start dropping their seeds. There are many varieties of oaks, and while most of them produce edible acorns, some produce poisonous ones. Foragers who plan to collect and consume acorns should familiarize themselves with the few species that are inedible. Also, individuals who suffer from tree nut allergies should stay away from acorns, as eating them could trigger an allergic reaction. Finally, acorns that have damaged outer shells or small dark holes in them, signaling worms, should not be eaten, nor should acorns that have started to germinate and sprout. The rule of thumb for collecting and eating acorns and any foraged food is as follows: when in doubt, don’t eat it.
Like other nuts, acorns are a nutrient dense food. One ounce of acorns has 142 calories. They are a good source of carbohydrates, protein, Vitamin B6, and fats — specifically Omega-6 fatty acids. They are also rich in several trace minerals, especially manganese, which is essential for bone development, healing, enzyme function, and nutrient absorption.
Unlike squirrels and other animals, humans can’t simply eat raw acorns. For starters, the acorns need to be shelled. There are few ways to do this. The easiest is probably with a hammer or rock. Gently tapping or crushing the acorns will crack the outer shell, allowing you to get to the edible nut meat inside. Another way is to warm them in a dry pan for several minutes, swirling the acorns around so none of them burn. Warming them loosens the shell, and the acorn can then easily be cracked with a regular nut cracker.
Once the kernels are harvested from the shells, they need to be boiled or soaked. This removes the bitter tannins and makes the acorns palatable. Boiling is fastest, taking about an hour and two or three changes of water. Soaking takes at least one day and as many as two, and the water needs to be changed two or three times with this method as well. Then, the nut meats can be dried and even roasted. They are a unique and unexpected addition to salads or any other dish in which you might use nuts.
Flour can also be made from foraged acorns. Acorn flour can be added to bread and biscuit recipes (along with more traditional flours) for a slight nutty flavor. To make flour, the harvested kernels need to be ground. This can be done in a high-quality blender, a spice grinder, or a coffee grinder, though the coffee grinder should be one used for nuts and grains and not for coffee. (Using one that’s been used for coffee will give a definite coffee flavor to your flour and whatever you bake with it.) The ground acorns should then be placed in cheesecloth or a tea towel or even a clean sock, and then soaked for two days in several changes of cold water. At the end of the two days, the acorn mash will need to be dried before it can be used as flour. This can be done by spreading the mash out on a pan or cookie sheet and then placing it in a dehydrator, in an oven set on the lowest temperature, or even out in the sun. Stir it regularly until all the moisture is gone, and it’s ready to use.
Foragers, natural food enthusiasts, paleo followers, and anyone curious about food may find acorns to be an interesting addition to their diet. They are free and plentiful in many parts of the US, and just a few easy steps are necessary to make them edible. As with any foraged whole food, some precaution needs to be taken to ensure that what you’re about to eat is safe, though this is not hard to do. Next fall, when the oaks start dropping their seeds, chase the squirrels away from the trees, grab a bucket, and collect a fabulous and free source of nutrition.