The fruit of the oak tree, acorns, has been used as an important staple by aboriginal people across North America for centuries. The people of each region had their preferred species and detailed methods of collecting, storing, and processing the acorns for use in different types of dishes.
Although rarely eaten today, oak trees still produce large numbers of acorns and represent an under-utilized food source. Given their nutritional profile, low glycemic index value, and ability to be stored for long periods, acorns make a wonderful wild food that can be enjoyed throughout the year.
Here is a detailed account of what is involved in processing your acorns to render them an edible and nutritious food source from Arthur Haines, a mentor and wild foods expert.
Be sure to scroll down and watch the video, it provides a thorough and detailed account of exactly how to process your acorns correctly.
From Tree to Table: Gathering and Processing Acorns
Autumn is another season of the year when wild food is bountiful (and free for the gathering). Acorns, the fruit of the oak tree, are one of the important foods because they can be preserved (through drying), therefore providing a plant-based staple through the winter.
Given our society’s lack of interaction with this food, many myths have sprung into being concerning the acorn. Perhaps most telling of our ignorance is that the symbolic acorn, the nut with its “cap” attached, is actually a defective acorn shed early from the tree (most species of acorns in eastern North America become separated from their “cap” when well-formed). Let’s put to rest the notion that some acorns don’t need to be leached. They all do. Period.
Acorns, like other nuts (and grains, legumes, and seed-like fruits) contain an anti-nutrient called phytic acid. This acid binds to minerals in your GI tract and prevents their absorption.
Traditional cultures typically soak, sprout, or ferment such foods to deactivate the phytic acid. Acorns also contain tannins, most obviously experienced by nibbling on a raw acorn of the black oak group (e.g., northern red oak, black oak, scarlet oak, pin oak). They will taste bitter and feel astringent. Tannins also bind with mineral nutrition and block its use by the body. Leaching with water deals with both of these anti-nutrients.
Members of the white oak group (e.g., eastern white oak, burr oak, swamp white oak, mountain chestnut oak) have acorns that don’t taste that bitter (some species are even palatable raw). This leads people to believe they don’t need to be leached.
Unfortunately, many white oak group acorns have nearly as much (some even have more!) tannins as members of the black oak group. For some reason, the tannins are concealed from our taste buds in the white oak group. Suffice to say, eating raw acorns amounts to eating anti-nutrition. The leaching process takes care of tannins (and phytic acid).
For what it is worth, if you aren’t sprouting, soaking, or fermenting your grains, legumes, nuts, and seed-like fruits (e.g., amaranth, quinoa), your suffering the same loss of minerals with your store-purchased foods.
Despite what you may have been told, all acorns should be leached prior to consuming them in any quantity. The purpose of eating is to nourish your body (not remove nutrition). Acorns are nutrient dense once processed (i.e., once leached). This is true of many foods—they are beneficial once processed in a traditional manner.
Acorns even supply all eight essential amino acids, meaning they are a complete protein and don’t need to be combined with other foods. Acorns have been eaten as a staple on four continents. Let’s revive this traditional food and (again) find ways to value living oak trees aside from the timber they might produce one day.
Let’s work toward self-sufficiency, it can be very important (especially in times of economic trouble and uncertainty). Finally, let’s nourish our bodies with real food—food that has not been altered in any way by modern people. Remember, acorns are part of many people’s heritage, a heritage that was free of the plague of modern, chronic diseases.
You might also be interested in my friend Richard Cleveland’s Acorn Bread Recipe!
Some of my favorite and trusted books on wild plants for food and medicine…
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