Cooking and eating acorns
Until recently, I didn’t know that acorns are edible. It turns out that while the nuts require some processing to leach out bitter tannins and turn them into either grits or flour, once you’ve got ground acorns, there are all kinds of foods you can make with them.
I visited members of the New England Acorn Cooperative to find out what they’re making.
Jasmine Tanguay made a turkey meatloaf, but used acorns instead of oatmeal or breadcrumbs. She said it was really good.
Babette Wils made a rich bread laced with nuts and raisins, almost like an energy bar.
She adapted it from a recipe for cornbread and instead of corn she put in acorns, but then adjusted for the fact that acorns are moister than cornmeal, so she used a little bit of yogurt instead of milk.
She found that you can kind-of interchange corn and acorns in the recipes. “You just get a different, interesting bread,” she said.
Babette made her bread with acorn grits—acorn meats that have been leached to remove the tannins and then ground to a coarse consistency comparable to the grits we make with cornmeal. Jasmine experimented with acorn grits in a dessert.
“It was just a kind of conventional recipe for like apple pear oat bars and instead of using the full amount of all purpose flour and oatmeal I just substituted a little bit of the acorn kind of grits that I had, I had frozen them and so I took out kind of about a cup of them and mixed them in not for just this quantity but for two batches.”
She added, “You can’t taste them all that much, but they’re in there, and they’re mild, they add a little nuttiness I think.”
The thing about acorns is that once the tannins are removed, they don’t have a lot of flavor, but that’s not a bad thing. Daniela Dana, who started the Acorn Cooperative, explains.
“People often ask me what acorns taste like, and I say acorns are the tofu of the nut world, because, they’re very mild. But that’s what flour is like when you’re making bread, it becomes whatever you want it to be.”
Teresa Cruz Foley says she likes to take advantage of this mildness by using acorns in a traditional Mexican drink, that’s hot and sweet and usually made with equally neutral ground rice.
“I made like an horchata. So I had acorn flour and I just put it like in a cast iron pan, and just kind of toast it, until the fire alarm goes off, and then you know it’s done. And then I just put, I boiled water, and I poured the water into that, and then I put sugar into that too, because I was thinking of something like an horchata, and that’s sweet. So then I soaked it overnight. And then you blend it, and put it through a sieve.”
It was delicious and had a nice flavor from the cinnamon stick she cooked with it.
Teresa says she wants to try making the acorn horchata with maple syrup, instead of sugar, since a tree sweetener seems appropriate for an acorn drink. Babette has made an acorn milk the same way you’d make almond milk or any other nut milk, by blending the leached acorn grits and straining off and sweetening the white liquid that’s pressed out.
Like other nuts, and unlike all-purpose flour, acorns are incredibly nutritious. They’re high in vitamins A, E and B6, iron, potassium, manganese, folate, and apparently scientists have identified all kinds of potent antioxidants in acorns that help protect cells from damage. Acorns also have a lot of starch, which means the grits can be boiled to make a thick jello-like substance.
“The Koreans make it into something called dotorimuk, which is almost between like a jelly and a tofu. They cook the starch and like all starches it will jell a bit. And dotorimuk is just water and acorns, really,” said Daniela.
Tofu isn’t really my thing, and I’m not sure if dotorimuk would be either, but I see the appeal of a starch that doesn’t add its own flavor and like flour can be used for almost anything.
I looked around online for other recipes and I tried a few out—including an excellent acorn flour pudding with coconut milk and honey, and a surprisingly delicious acorn-thickened beef stew. It turns out there’s a tasty, abundant starch hiding in plain sight in the woods.
Here are some acorn recipes from Elspeth's blog.
This piece first aired in November 2019.