Nature provides us with everything we need. The problem is that most people have long since lost the skills and knowledge needed to make use of all that nature offers. The crazy part of it is, even in the middle of the city nature offers us an amazing bounty of food. I think we all know an oak tree somewhere in our neighborhood or close to home.
Acorns are a gem in the natural food world, a gem that is hidden in plain sight. They make a great survival food in part because they are so easy to find and harvest. Plus, acorns can be used in so many ways, including as a coffee substitute and in a wide range of cooked dishes. They also have a high level of nutrition, with nutrients such as healthy fats, lots of protein, carbohydrates, some calcium and iron, and lots of magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B-6. However, in order to be able to use these nuggets of nutrition, you need to know how to harvest and process them.
Harvesting acorns is relatively easy – you simply wait for them to fall off the tree. First you need to be sure you know which trees are oak trees and what an acorn looks like. The image displayed here shows typical oak leaves and acorns.
When considering harvesting acorns, it is best to identify which types of oak trees are in your area. Take the time in the spring to identify the oak trees around you by looking at their leaves and referring to a tree book. Oak trees are far easier to identify by looking at their leaves than by looking at their acorns.
Here are the types of oak trees and the type of acorns they produce:
- Emory Oak: Produces mild acorns that don’t need processing.
- White Oak: These produce blander acorns that are good for harvesting. The best white oak trees form which to harvest include the burr oak, the Swamp Oak, and the Oregon White Oak.
- Red Oak: These acorns are more bitter and will require more processing.
- Black Oak: These are the most bitter acorns and will need to be leached a lot to get rid of the bitter taste.
Of course, you can harvest and eat acorns from any of these trees. It’s just that the more bitter the acorns are, the more processing they will require. The bitterness is due to a substance in the nuts called tannins. The more tannin the acorns have, the more bitter they are. Plus the tannins can cause stomach upset, but these tannins can be removed, something we will discuss below.
When looking for acorns to harvest, the best time to harvest is late in September and into October (will vary with climate), although you can retrieve them through spring. The best thing to do is ensure the day is dry and it is early in the season. Go and simply pick the acorns up off the ground.
When choosing acorns, it is important to choose nuts that have no visible holes in them. Weevils are especially fond of acorns, so any sign that they have bored through the shell of the nut indicates the nut is no good. It is the weevil larvae that are the real problem and you can only identify the nuts from which they have emerged. That’s right, I said emerged. The weevil larvae are coming out from inside the nut, so you might get your harvest home to find other nuts infested with weevil larvae.
When you get your acorns home, it is a good idea to put them all in a big bowl of water. This will allow you to separate the good from the bad. It they are good, they will sink. If they are bad, they will float. Once you have done this, you will want to dry them fully before shelling them. You can do this by putting them in a 150 degree oven for 15 minutes. You can also do it by putting them in the sun for a few days. Drying them out will allow the nut inside the shell to shrink slightly, making the shelling process easier.
Shelling the acorns is relatively easy. If they are still green, you can use a knife to get into them. Otherwise, you can simply remove the cap (if it’s not already removed), place the nut flat-side down, and hit the pointed end with a hammer. If the nut is longer and won’t stand on its end, then just hit the side of the nut. It is also best to place your acorns in water as soon as they have been shelled, at least to make the acorn flour more aesthetically pleasing. The nuts will oxidize very quickly and the color of your flour will not be as light if they do. Water stops the oxidation process.
When it comes to Red Oak acorns, the nut inside the shell has a skin on it that is very difficult to remove. For this reason, boil red acorns before shelling them and shell them while they are still hot. When you do this, the skin will come off with the shell.
Removing the Tannins
OK, we have talked about the bitterness of acorns and the need to remove the tannins that cause it. Fortunately, doing so isn’t difficult. First, let’s talk about the quicker method of removing the tannins. For this you need to place the shelled nuts in water and bring the water to a boil. When the water begins to boil, pour it off, add fresh water, and repeat. Do this as many times as needed for the water to run clearer (it starts out dark) and the nuts to taste sweeter.
But here’s the thing. When you boil the acorns, you destroy a starch found in the acorns that acts much like gluten in wheat flour, allowing the acorn flour to bind to itself. However, you don’t need heat to remove the tannins; water will do that on its own. The thing is, without the heat it will take days, instead of hours.
To remove the tannins from acorns, particularly if you are going to grind them and use them as flour, you need to grind them into flour and mix them with water in a ratio of 1:3. Put the mixture into a glass jar and keep this in the fridge. Every day you must shake the jar and then pour out the water 12 hours later and replace it with fresh water. It will take 1 to 2 weeks to remove the tannins using this method.
Once you have removed the tannins, you will need to dry your acorns or the flour you have made. The easiest way is to spread them on a baking sheet and set them out in the sun. If this isn’t an option, you can use a dehydrator, which will not destroy any of the nutrients, or you can use the oven turned to its lowest setting. When you are done drying the acorns or the acorn flour, you need to store it in the fridge. Alternatively, you can freeze it, but it has to be kept cool because it will go rancid quickly.
Food You Can Make
Acorns have such a wide range of uses it’s surprising they aren’t a part of our regular food options. First and foremost, you can roast acorns and eat them that way. They are delicious!
You can also grind these roasted acorns into a meal and use them as a great substitute for coffee. If you don’t want to substitute your coffee completely, you can still add the roasted acorn meal to your regular coffee for a nutty flavor.
As discussed above, acorns can be ground into flour that is great when baking. You can use it to bake the following:
Used whole or in pieces, acorns can be used to make:
- Acorn brittle (as a substitute for peanuts)
- As a substitute for any nut in any recipe
- As a substitute for beans and legumes in soups and casseroles
- Sprinkled on the top of salads or mashed potatoes
Finally, as with any other nut, you can grind acorns into a rich and yummy nut butter. Really, acorns, either whole or ground, can be used in many versatile ways. They make one of the best, easiest to find, and most nutritious survival foods, but are so plentiful and easy to process that you don’t have to wait for the end of the world as we know it to harvest and use these little beauties. They are available and ready for the taking anytime!
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