Eating Acorns

Let me preface this story to say that I am proud, very proud, to have Native American blood coursing through me.  My great grandmother was full-blooded Osage.  I grew up knowing this, but was never able to talk with my grandmother about her heritage.  Why?  Because grandma lived during a time when being American Indian was not so popular.  She detested being called a “squaw”.  When grandma and grandpa came to California from Missouri, they left most of their family ties, and stories, back at the old homestead.  Too bad.

I have often thought that my interest in getting back to nature and living a simpler life may be, in part, because of my heritage.  So, the other day when Ray and I were up on our future homestead working on the roof of the outhouse, I began to take note of all the acorns on the ground around us.  Lots of acorns.  In fact, one dropped right on my head!

Acorns

A bowl of some of the acorns I gathered. I think these are from a Black Oak, but I’m not sure.

But wait!  Indians eat acorns!  In fact, humans have survived on acorns for thousands of years – right?  They are  tree nuts, afterall, and nuts are nutritious!  Perhaps while living up on the future homestead we could harvest the acorns, roast them and eat them as a nutritious snack.  Right?

acorn 8

I think the acorns on the left are Black Oak and the ones on the Right are Canyon Live Oak, but I am not sure. I will have to do some more research to find out what kind of trees these came from.

I decided to gather some acorns to take back to our valley home and give it a try.  I gathered acorns from two different trees.  I really have no idea what kind of oak trees they are, but the one with the white trunk that keeps it’s leaves all year (Canyon Live Oak?) had fat acorns with velcro-like caps.  The other tree (Black Oak?) had long, slender acorns with the more traditional looking cap.

I did a bit of research on the internet and found that the tannin in the acorn MUST be leached out before the nut can be consumed.  Apparently, if one eats too much of the tannin, it can do a real number on your kidneys!  Some acorns need more leaching than others because there is a different level of tannin in each species of oak.  Centuries ago, the Maidu indians used to live in this area, and the preferred way for them to leach tannin out of acorns was to crack the acorn open to retrieve the meat, roughly crush the nut and then place the nuts in a fibrous basket in a flowing stream for several days.  This was the most natural way to do it.  Believe it or not, modern experimenters have found that you can do basically the same thing by placing roughly ground nut meats in a cloth bag into the water tank of your toilet.  Not in the bowl, mind you!  Every time the toilet is flushed, the rushing water simulates the flowing stream!  Unfortunately, the tannin in the acorns are likely to stain the tank and the bowl, and since I hate to clean toilets, this was not an option for me.

So I tried the most sane method I found – successive boiling.

Peeling acorns

Getting the meat out of the acorn shell is not an easy task Ray’s vice and a sharp knife did the trick!

First, I had to get the meats out of the acorns – which is no easy feat!  I wanted to try the long skinny acorns first.  I tried pounding them and they just squished.  Then I tried using a pair of pliers – no go.  I figured that if I could somehow get through the shell in one spot, then I could chip off enough shell to get the nut meat out, but when I tried to cut the end off with a knife to make an access hole, I almost cut my finger off!  Those things are slippery!  Finally, I placed the acorn into my husband’s vice and with the acorn secured, cut a slit down the side with a very sharp knife.  Voila!  It took a while to do this.  I have new respect for my ancestors!  I didn’t bother with the smallest acorns – I have crafty plans for those!

Acorn nut meats ready to be boiled to leach out the tannin.

Acorn nut meats ready to be boiled to leach out the tannin.

Next, I got two pots of water boiling.  “Two?” you say.  Yes, it takes several successive boilings to leach the tannin from the nut meats, and once you start the process the meats should never be put into cold water.  This would close up the pores of the nut meats and prevent any further leaching.  So, you boil the nut meats in one pot for about 15 minutes, then transfer them to the next pot, which is already boiling.  While the nuts are boiling (and hopefully leaching) in the second pot, you have refreshed the water in the first pot and are heating it up to boiling.  Continue in this fashion, tasting the nut meats after each change of boiling water, to see if they have leached enough.

Boiling acorns to leach out tannin

I used the two pot method to leach the tannin out of the acorn nut meats.

So, that’s what I did.  I tried tasting a nut after the third pot of boiling water.

Holy.  Mary.  mother.  of.  Jesus.     That was bad.  Really bad.  🙁

I decided to try it again after the fifth boiling. Yuck.  Ick.  Pthooey.  Then the sixth.  Not good, but not horrible.  The seventh was a bit better, but certainly not good yet.  I decided to try one more pot of boiling water.  Eight pots of boiling water for fifteen minutes each!  These poor acorns had been through enough.  Once the  acorn nuts had cooled off, I tasted one.  Meh.  Not bad, but not really good either.  Kinda bland.  And mealy.

Leaching tannin out of acorns

No, this is not a sampling of home made beer.  This is the water I saved from each successive boiling, starting from the left (the lightest) all the way to the last (eighth) pot of boiling water – trying to leach the tannin out of the acorns

I saved the water from each pot because I wanted to see if the water would get lighter and lighter as the tannin leached out.  No, the water actually got darker!

Now what to do with these bland, kind of mealy nuts?  I decided to roast them with a little olive oil and sea salt.  I roasted them for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  The results – well, less than stellar, but palatable.  I suppose if there came a time when food was scarce, I could always cook up a pot of acorns – eight times – and eat them.  Besides, they are an excellent source of protein, and minerals!  See this website for more information HERE

I decided to try the other acorns, the fatter ones, to see if they were any better.  First, they were much easier to get the nut meats out!  They actually cracked with a bit of muscle and my husband’s pliers.  Well, that was refreshing.  Then I started the same process that I had used with the other acorns, and tried them after the fourth boil (see, I learned not to try them too early).  Whoa.  I really have no words for how bad these were!  Even after eight pots of boiling water, these acorns never leached enough tannin to be remotely palatable!   No No No No No

roasting acorns

After boiling, I decided to roast them with a little olive oil and sea salt, just to see if I could jazz up the flavor a bit!      Uh, no.  Not really.

I think I will stick to using acorns for decorating and crafts!

Thank you so much for reading.  I try to answer all of your comments and questions, so please, feel free to speak your mind.  But please – be nice!

 

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49 thoughts on “Eating Acorns

  1. I have been so tempted to try exactly what you have described but never brave enough at the same time there were available acorns and time. I understand there are some types of oak trees that grow tannin free. Perhaps that would be a place to start. But first we need to find someone who knows enough about identifying oak trees . It is never easy. But don’t give up! Thanks for your post. You have satisfied some of my curiosity.

    • I know – me too! I have always wanted to try this in my daydreams, but I finally did it on a whim! When that acorn hit my head – seriously, I think a squirrel threw it at me – I remembered that this was something I wanted to do! It was easy enough to gather the acorns because there were so many on the ground! I did some research and did see that there are many acorns that have very little to no tannin, and then there are some (apparently mine) that have so much they are never really edible! The first batch, I think, could have been improved upon with a different seasoning – taco or ranch, maybe? But, nonetheless, I now know that the process isn’t worth it for the type of trees we have, unless we hit a “the end of the world as we know it” scenario. If that happened, at least I know how to make acorns at least palatable! But, don’t let my experience stop you from trying this with your own acorns! Who knows, you might be lucky!

    • Yeah – from peeling the little nuts to boiling eight times – and then to end up with something barely edible – not something I hope to do again real soon! Euell Gibbons, I am not! Thanks, Steph!

  2. This was so interesting!!!! I am thinking that at some point I’d try again with a small amount of acorns and a rushing stream ! 🙂 Maybe they’d taste better with the cold water effect that the Indians used but not sure.

    • I was thinking of trying the acorns from another type of oak tree – you never know! Apparently they are all different and sometimes even have higher (or lower) levels of tannin even within a species! From what I have read, the native people would have favorite trees that they would gather from. Last night I found this website http://www.grandpappy.info/racorns.htm that has a great tutorial on how to prepare acorns and also some recipes! I wish I had found this one a couple of days ago! Anyway, maybe I will try grinding my acorns before boiling them, and then grinding them into a flour to use in recipes such as acorn pancakes! Now I need to gather some more acorns! 🙂

  3. Great post! You were so thorough! I love that you saved the water to compare it. I have always wondered about acorns, as they are so plentiful here in Ohio, but they are much smaller than yours. For some reason I didn’t remember about boiling them to get the tannin out. I was thinking that they needed to be roasted and ground into flour. Glad I never tried without doing more research. 🙂

    • Hello Heather! Yes, I think I need to do more research and experimentation also! Perhaps I just didn’t get the right type of acorn. I also found this great website – see reply above yours – that has recipes for ground acorns! This is probably what I am going to try next! Oh, and yes, those acorns were pretty big! About twice the size of an almond! Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment!

  4. Very interesting! It never even occurred to me that you could eat acorns, and I wouldn’t even know where to begin in preparing them. I love how much time and effort you put into it, just to see if it would work!

    Also, I love the whole idea behind your blog and sustainable living. I just found you via the Harvest of Friends blog hop, and look forward to reading more! 🙂

    • Thank you, Willow, what a nice comment to make! I’m glad to be writing this blog – so others can learn by my mistakes 🙂 Haha. Seriously, I am learning so much from other blogs as well! Welcome aboard!

    • Keren, thanks for stopping by! You know, in our family we don’t call them acorns, they are squirrel nuts! Now after tasting them, I think that the squirrels are nuts! Thanks for the follow, I’m sliding over to see yours!

    • Please don’t take my major fail as the definitive opinion! In truth, I’m not the best cook (no one has ever called me Martha Stewart!) So perhaps my technique was lacking some type of finesse! Actually – after doing a lot more research, I am going to try again with ground acorns. Wish me luck! You should try it also – who knows, your acorns may be sweeter, or perhaps you are a better cook than me! 🙂

  5. I found a free PDF from http://www.californiaoaks.org and it tells of a different manner of leaching out the tannins than what you tried. The free book is called Acorns and Eat ‘Em by Suellen Ocean. She claims to use acorn flour a lot and really love it! Her book also is a recipe book. She puts the ground meal into quart glass jars and covers with water, puts it in the frig and changes the water daily for about a week. I hope you like this resource!

    • Thank you so much, Linda! I will certainly read her website and try her method! Who knows, it might be the best way to tackle the tannin in acorns! I am gathering more acorns tomorrow, so I should be able to post more results soon!

  6. “Not in the bowl, mind you!”
    This was fun and interesting and had me laughing and sympathizing all over the place.
    I almost had a similar experience with black walnuts… but I aborted the mission far to soon to be properly comedic! Perhaps someday when I find myself with an excess of patience, I will give acorns a try instead!
    I am definitely going to be sharing this one! 🙂

    • Dearest Christine – I would love to hear your story about black walnuts! I hear you can tap black walnut trees – just like maple trees! Now, if I had a black walnut tree I would be up for that one! As for eating black walnuts – they are the absolute best! Especially in ice cream! It’s just so darned hard to get the nuts out of the shell it’s almost not worth it! Well, almost. 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by! And please post your story about black walnuts because I would love to read it!

  7. I LOVED this blog. My son, who is vegan, cracked open an acorn last week and took a nibble and said it wasn’t half bad. He has no taste. Thank you for the giggles and info.

    BTW, piggies love acorns. They eat the acorns, you eat the pig. Problem solved!
    Bridget at Riches to Rags to Moriches

    • Yes, yes! I have heard that pigs love acorns! Maybe I should gather a bunch up and take them over to a pig farm because it seems such a waste of mother nature to have so many acorns just laying on the ground to rot! Right now there isn’t room for many more trees, and one of our neighbors is apparently hunting squirrels ( 🙁 ) so we don’t have many of those critters eating the acorns this fall. Thank you for stopping by! I will check out your site also.

  8. Love this thorough experiment. I thought you were supposed to use acorns to make flour, not eat them as nuts. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of acorns. It certainly seems likely our ancestors didn’t have much time left over after gathering and preparing food.

    • Thank you, Carol! As a matter of fact, I did save some acorns to try grinding, then leaching, then grinding further into flour – which I will be trying today! Perhaps, if it isn’t too much of a disaster, or even if it is (hahaha) I will post it! My poor husband, bless his heart, is my guinea pig. Hopefully I can find a recipe for something fairly sweet – like muffins – that might be kinder to his tongue! 😉

  9. So sorry you had a bad experience. A few years ago we tried acorns and had totally positive experiences with them, but we never tried eating them alone, and I know that different varieties of oaks contain differing levels of tannins. I think we only boiled ours three times, then ground them up and used the meal to make a variety of dishes, like veggie burgers and “meatless” balls. When mixed with spices and onions and a few other ingredients we thought they were really good.

    Since moving to our new homestead two years ago we have not had the time to try it again, but do hope to do so when we get a chance. If you care to read our experience and how we did it, I wrote a few posts here: http://www.livereadynow.com/eating-like-squirrels/

    • Oh my goodness! I just checked out the link – acorn hamburgers???!!! This sounds great – I think! Right now my tongue is still trying to get over it’s trauma from my last experiment! LOL! I was thinking I might grind the acorn into a fine flour and use it to make muffins, first starting out with 1/2 acorn flour and 1/2 regular flour – just to see what happens!!! Stay tuned, I’ll let you know!

  10. Your posts are always so informative — and this was sure no exception — I laughed out loud when you tasted that first acorn. I’m so glad you were so honest! I hope you get better results from different trees!

  11. I didn’t even know that acorns were edible. Sounds like a lot of work. I think I will stick to using them for decorating and crafts also. lol! Thanks for sharing with SYC.
    hugs,
    Jann

    • It really wouldn’t have seemed like such a lot of work if the acorns had tasted good! Then Linda, a commenter below, suggested that I try a different method of leaching the tannins, which I am in the process of doing. From those acorns I plan to make acorn flour and try it in some recipes. I will post my results – good, bad or ugly! Thank you, Jann!

  12. Wow, quite informative – I didn’t know there were so many varieties and ways to eat acorns! I am delighted that you shared with Home and Garden Thursday,
    Kathy

    • I guess that’s why they have such big teeth! But, I hope the squirrels in our neighborhood don’t have big taste buds, or they are probably the most unhappy squirrels on this God’s green earth! Hahahaha! Thanks, Pam!

  13. What an interesting post, I commend you for keeping at it! Thanks for being honest about your results, I’ve heard acorns can be ground for flour but I’ve never tried it! Thanks so much for sharing on the HomeAce Hop! I am going to feature this post tomorrow, be sure to stop by and pick up your “I was featured button”! Hope to see you again tomorrow! Nancy HomeAcre Hop

    • I’m keeping at it! I promise to post the results of Experiment #2 when I am done. I may have to sneak the acorn flour into some really tasty looking muffins, however, or my dearest hubby may not even try them! I hope they taste good, because I surely don’t want him to think I am poisoning him! LOL Thanks for stopping by, Nancy, and telling me about being featured! I am honored – Thank you!

  14. I’ve been wanting to try cooking with acorns ever since a friend made ground acorns using the toilet tank method and added them to peanut butter cookies. Thanks for the post, and for your honesty!

    • Haha – so did it work? Were the cookies good? I would love to know more!!! Right now I am trying the method of soaking the roughly ground acorns in the refrigerator, changing the water every day. Then you are supposed to dry them, grind them into flour and use it that way. We will see! Thanks, Carol!

  15. I know that acorn have been used as substitution of coffee. For example “Frank Aroma”. Substituting coffee was quite usual during the ww I and II. So people did not actually eat acorns then.

    • I think I read that somewhere, though I had never heard of “Frank Aroma” before! I assume, however, that it doesn’t have any caffeine in it – right? Thank you for that bit of information, Regula!

    • I have also tried the acorns as a coffee substitute. It was good, but I still like coffee better. Then I thought why not try a mocha. I did a 50/50 mix with the acorns and hot chocolate, now that was a treat!! You can use stevia or sugar, but don’t forget the whipped cream. Acorn tincture is also good. You can make a liqueur by adding a sugar syrup to the tincture. Great on ice cream!

  16. No can ever accuse you of giving up too soon! Thanks for the info, I was wondering what you needed to do to be able to eat acorns, but I think I will pass. Too much trouble for me. What can you do with the tannin you boiled out? I am assuming it’s a natural dye?

    • Apparently the tannin was used by the Native Americans to “tan” their hides! Since I haven’t any fresh deer hides laying around, I just dumped the water down the drain. I do hear, however, that you can wash your clothes in it as it makes a good laundry substitute – just not for your whites because it would make them dingy. I also think the tannin water could be used as a good “tea stain”, but I haven’t tried that yet. Thanks for your thoughts, Connie!

  17. I use the acorns from the white oak here in Vermont. After three hot water baths the acorns are sweet and ready to go. I have used the in stews, used it as a coffee substitute. Used them in chocolate candies as a filling, pickled them and now made a specialty vinegar with them witch I sell on e-bay. As you know acorns are a nut and not everyone likes and eats everything that is available. You either like them or you don’t. If you have a negative interest in anything, you will never get beyond that thought. I have talked to many people and they have always thought acorns were not edible. Education is the key to learning new things. If you don’t give it a try you will never know how good they really are.

    • How right you are, Paul! I am surprised at the amount of people who don’t realize that acorns are edible and that our Native Peoples used them as a staple food. I have seen the pickles acorns and the stews with acorns, and will be trying them myself, but I have never heard about acorn vinegar! Please comment back about your web site that sells the vinegar – I would be very interested in trying some! Thanks, Paul!

      • Hello Vickie

        It’s because I made it up this fall and started marketing it. I don’t have a web sit yet but I’m working on it. If you do a search on E-bay Vermont Acorn Vinegar, you should find it. I also make an elderberry vinegar. Both vinegars are made from a British style recipe. As far as the acorn vinegar goes I have used it in salad dressings using maple syrup. Very tasty from two popular hardwood trees from Vermont. I have used it in stews and also boiled it down to make a tangy nutty glaze for meat. I have had good opinions from people that have tried it from my farmers market standard have a few chefs and restaurants interested in using it. I hope it catches on! It’s getting people to try something new. Thanks for asking!

  18. Hi! As a career Park Ranger that taught years of wild edible and medicinal plant usages…. I have to tell you that I’m impressed and entertained with your experiments! Kudos!! First, try going with an acorn from the white oak family – they are much lower in tannins to begin with. 😉 Due to this fact of nature, bugs and animals like to eat them more, and they will be harder to find. Once harvested, float in a bucket of water – the good ones sink, the ones with grubs in them will float as they have airpockets within the nutshell. They do not have to have visible holes in the shell to have a grub. (Some insects lay eggs during oak flowering stage and the grubs develop within the shell during the acorn growth.) If in doubt, throw it out!…well, unless you are looking for extra protein. lol! Once floated and sorted, then leach. Then roast til thoroughly dry and like any other off-shelf type of snacking nut. Then – GRIND to flour. 🙂 Most of the ‘5 Civilized Tribes’ of the lower SE United States would have used the nutmeat flour for ash cakes. You can substitute any of the recipes you use for the nut meat flour to try a taste. Most also would mix with bear fat, or elk fat…but, that does give it a pretty wild and gamey taste most of our modern palates would refuse. You can also make your morning berry pancakes with the nut flour….. Good luck in your experimentation and following your heritage. 🙂 Mitake Oyasin.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughts of wisdom! I have tried the acorns from the white oak family and they do seem to have less tannin! So, let me get this straight – you roast the acorns and THEN grind them into flour??!!! I have been just air drying my acorn meal and then grinding. Another trick I have been reading about is to gather acorns that are sprouting – and they will be sweet! I am going to try finding some sprouted acorns this spring and test out this method. They are also supposed to be healthier – so, we will see! As for mixing with bear fat or elk fat – well, lets just say I’m not “game” for that recipe! Please leave a comment anytime you would like – I love hearing from people who have different methods or more experience than I have! If you have a blog – please leave the name of it so I can visit! Thanks again!

  19. My kids have been collecting these huge acorns from the yard and asking me why we don’t eat them. I had no idea. So, my search began and I stumbled on your article. I loved it! Hilarious! And informative! Maybe my 7 year old will leave me alone about eating them now since I read her the article too. Thanks for such a great write-up!

    • Good morning, Ann – you are so welcome! This would really be a fun project to do with kids. Depending on how much tannin your acorns have, the leaching is the process that takes the longest time. Once they are sufficiently leached of their tannin, you and your 7-year-old can dry them, grind them and then make quick breads, cookies, lots of stuff! If your acorns are fairly tannin free (lucky you) then you can leach them whole and then roast them. Toss them in a little butter and powdered ranch dressing first for a ranch acorn. Or taco seasoning. Experiment with what you like – it’s fun!

  20. Where I live has a lot of oak tree. The one Acorn you have had a slender and shiny skin is the chestnut acorn and taste sweet ( I taste it while cracking it by biting it in half lengthwise. For bleaching the acorn to get the tanning out, I accidentally pour the white vinegar into the mush acorn for 2 or 3 times and rinse it with water several times. The water becomes clear and the omega 3 from acorn mush is grease around my plastic tub ( it’s a good sight). I just pour the water out for several times and the water is very clear and the the acorn mush has no tanning taste. Tanning is full of acid when it hit the vinegar. It gives up the tanning. I guess that what they said: ” the only antidote for poison is the poison itself.” i hope you don’t give up and try this method is more easier and only use cold water

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