By Dr. Christine Morgan, ND, PSc.D.
Did you know that there is a nutritious food source literally dropping from your trees each fall? In fact, unless you are a squirrel, you may even see this food as a nuisance. But guess what? Acorns are edible!!
Alas, the lowly acorn was not always seen this way. Historical sources suggest that some of the world’s earliest civilizations ate acorns. In fact, the word for “oak” in Tunisian translates to “meal-bearing tree.”
Although acorns, which contain healthy fats, protein and minerals, found their way into many Native American foods and are the main ingredient of a traditional Korean jelly recipe, most people today shy away from eating them. Why? Anyone who has ever sampled a raw acorn can tell you. They taste bitter because of naturally occurring chemicals called tannins.
The secret to eating…and enjoying acorns…lies in removing the tannins. When you complete this process, you can produce a subtly flavored flour that works well in all kinds of baking recipes and even as a coffee-like beverage.
How to remove the tannins
The first step to removing the tannins is to select only ripe, brown acorns. Avoid green, blackened or mildewed acorns. Then remove the caps and boil the acorns for about 10 minutes. You will need to strain out the brown water and boil the acorns again in fresh water. Repeat this process three to four times until the water looks clear and the acorns can be easily shelled. This is the “work” that most people are unwilling to do to use acorns as a food source, but more and more people are looking for alternative food sources to increase variety in the diet which is important for true health.
Now that the tannins are removed, it is time to dry the acorns. First shell them. Spread the acorn nuts on a baking sheet and place them in a preheated 200*F. oven. Leave the door slightly ajar so moisture can escape. Let them dry until crunchy. You now have acorn nuts!
To make acorn flour
To make acorn flour, the process is a little different. Shell after the boiling process (leaching) and let freshly leached acorns dry out a bit on the counter. Grind slightly moist leached acorns in a blender or food processor. Spread the meal out on a tray and let dry at 200*F. in an oven until dry…or in a dehydrator at 105* until dry. Then re-grind the dry meal in the blender or food processor again to make a fine flour. Store ground flour in an airtight container on the counter or it can be frozen for longer storage use.
Acorns add a nutty, slightly sweet taste to recipes. You can use them as a substitute for chickpeas, peanuts or macadamia nuts. (Put them in banana nut bread or zucchini bread!) You also can use them to make acorn butter, which you can use instead of peanut butter or almond butter. You also can add them to salads, soups and stews for flavor and nutrition.
You can substitute the acorn flour in any recipe that uses wheat or other gluten-free flour, but keep in mind that acorn flour products will have a crumbly texture. If you prefer a spongy texture to your cookies or bread, you will need to mix in some other flour with your acorn flour, or increase the liquids in GF recipes with other flours.
Another option is make acorn coffee. Now, this drink will not perk you up in the morning since acorns do not contain caffeine, but it is a pleasant beverage, especially in cold weather.
Place pieces of soaked (leached) acorns on a baking sheet and roast them in the oven at 400*F. for about 30 minutes. When the pieces are dark brown in color and have a pleasant roasted (not burned) aroma, they are ready.
Add one tablespoon of roasted acorn pieces per eight ounces of boiling water. Let the mixture steep for five to 10 minutes. Reheat if needed. Then you can add your regular coffee condiments or drink the acorn coffee black. Enjoy!