Real Food Encyclopedia | Acorns
For many cultures’ ancestors, the acorn was a major food staple. Among others, there are records of the ancient Greeks, Iberians, Japanese and English eating acorns, especially during times of famine when grains were unavailable. Contemporary Native American and Korean cooking incorporates acorns in beautiful dishes that you can still find today.
It takes effort to make acorns palatable for humans. They contain bitter tannins that can be toxic and cause irritation, so people have to leach these tannins out in order to cook with acorns. The processes devised by ancient peoples to do this are pretty incredible and required hours of work, but in today’s modern kitchen we can do the same work in only a fraction of the time. So come fall, take advantage of the tons of acorns littering the ground around you and make something amazing!
Fun Facts about Acorns:
- In times of war, some soldiers used ground acorns as a coffee substitute. Acorn coffee was made during the American Civil War and the Germans made their own version during the World Wars calling it ersatz coffee. Here’s a video of how to make your own acorn coffee.
- Acorns are all over heraldry (aka the system by which coats of arms are devised). They mean a number of different things because the symbolism of heraldry isn’t easily defined. For instance, check out the reason acorns can be found in Kate Middleton’s coat of arms.
What to Look for When Buying Acorns
Acorns fall from oak trees, one of America’s most common species of tree. You can find them everywhere. As far as acorns are concerned, you can make acorn meal out of any acorn, but a few specific varieties of oak are better mainly because they have less tannin.
Luckily for many of us, the white oak is fairly common and produces acorns low in tannins. Some varieties, like the California black oak, are particularly useful for producing acorn meal and were preferred by the California Native Americans who ate a lot of acorns. Here’s a great field guide to telling different kinds of oak apart.
In general, what you’re looking for are big, healthy trees with little underbrush underneath. Find acorns that don’t look like they’ve been sitting on the ground for a while, because they might have started germinating. Squeeze the acorn — if its shell is pretty hard, you’re likely good to go.
Also, make sure your acorns haven’t been damaged by bugs — or even have bugs still living within. Look for a little hole in the hull of the acorn. That’s often evidence that a bug has damaged your acorn. You can also open a couple of acorns to see if you have any insect stowaways. If you find a bunch of infested acorns, move on to the next oak.
Sustainability of Acorns
Because acorns come from oaks trees and you can forage for them yourself, acorns are one of the most sustainable foods around. Oak trees provide great habitat for wildlife and, as a significant proportion of the world’s deciduous forests, oaks pull a lot of weight in the fight against climate change.
Pesticides and Acorns
While acorns are probably not sprayed on the trees themselves, you’ll want to avoid picking up acorns from a yard that has recently been sprayed with pesticides.
Typically oaks begin producing acorns in the late summer and they drop throughout the fall.
Store in a cool, dry place as you would any nut meal or flour.
Cooking with Acorns
The leaching process is pretty easy and straightforward. Once you’ve made your meal, it can serve as a highly nutritious substitute in any recipe where you would use cornmeal. Acorn gives bread a nutty, rich flavor that’s reminiscent of chestnuts and fall.
Acorns are also great in flatbreads, tortillas, cornbread-type confections and honey cakes. You can press them into acorn oil and it’s apparently some pretty cool stuff. Because of their nutty flavor, food made from acorns pair well with savory dishes. For a truly woodsy breakfast, use acorn meal to make pancakes and hit them with real maple syrup. Over at the blog “Hunter Angler Gardener Cook,” Hank Shaw’s use of acorns is to be admired. Follow his guide to process acorns into flower and spend some time checking out his recipes and insights. Here’s a beautiful picture of acorn meal being leached via one of our favorite foragers, Leda Meredith.
Other delicious ways to use acorns are Korean preparations. There are two famous acorn-based dishes in Korea that use acorn starch. One is dotori guksu that features acorn noodles. The other is dotorimuk, which is basically an awesome acorn jelly.
Acorns are little bombs of nutrient-packed goodness. Like other nuts, they have a high concentration of proteins and fats. Acorns are high enough in these that they can spoil if not properly stored. Since the nutrient qualities of acorn vary by oak variety, there are different and amazing uses for many kinds of oaks. All of them are gluten-free.