The acorn nut is familiar to many, often used in decorations, jewelry, and crafts. But what many have forgotten is that they can be nutritious and edible. Acorn meals were once a part of daily menus everywhere that oaks grow. However, they have slowly faded from menus, especially in the Western world. Arrow Sample, the founder of Arrow’s Native Foods, is one of the people seeking to bring back these delicious meals to our diets.
The revival of ancient acorn cuisine
After graduating from college, Arrow Sample and his fiancee, Rochelle Bonillas, founded Arrow’s Native Foods to restore traditional dishes. The mush was one of the significant foods they wanted on the menus. It consists of acorn mush and water, but different tribes have different ways of preparing this.
Subscribe to our Newsletter!
Receive selected content straight into your inbox.
Simple mush has a pudding-like consistency, but some tribes may have a texture with a soup-like character. The flavor also varies from place to place depending on the type of oak they are from. Research shows there are tribes in California that got 50 percent of their calories from acorn meals alone.
Which ones are edible?
Raw acorns contain tannins, both bitter and anti-nutrients that bind up minerals in your body. Unfortunately, they poison animals like dogs, horses, and cattle. Luckily, you can make them palatable by leaching them. This process washes away the acid by soaking the flour in water for hours. Afterward, they are safe (and yummy!) to eat.
Depending on how you plan to use the nuts afterward, you can use hot or cold water when leaching. The sample uses a dehydrator to hasten the process. After drying, the flour is ready. It is mixed with water to create a dough that is then cooked and chilled to make your delicious acorn mush.
There are several oak species worldwide, each with flavor and nutritional profile. Some have higher contents of micronutrients, oil, and tannin than others. However, little research has been done on acorn meals because of their rarity.
Oak trees mostly come in two categories: white or red/black oaks. There are many differences; you can research them to learn more. The significant difference between them is their leaves. Generally, the best are the largest ones, which you can quickly and readily find.
California has had some shortages of late. Also, in the autumn of 2020, the Creek Fire burned much of the forest in Central California, making them even more scarce. Due to that shortage, he traveled further to source his favorite product.
But because of the tedious process needed, Sample wants to limit his sales of acorn-based products to what his family can sustainably gather and produce. So Wahpepa’s Kitchen in Oakland is their only customer at the moment. This restaurant uses the flour in crêpes and chocolate chip cookies.
There are several ways to enjoy acorns, like acorn flour, coffee, acorn brittle, and more. Acorn meals may be associated with Native Americans, but they have also been part of people’s cuisine in Asia, Greece, ancient Rome, Spain, and Africa. More interestingly, a single tree can produce about 2,000 pounds (ca. 907 kg) of nuts.
There are literal tons of free food falling everywhere. So when choosing the best acorns, make sure they are ripe. And always remember to forage sustainably — leave something for the birds, mice, and squirrels.