Wondering how to eat acorns? This 10-minute processing method is the absolute EASIEST way to remove the bitter tannins. (Plus, get 4 bonus recipes!)
Can you eat acorns? Of course! All oaks produce acorns, and all acorns are edible. But when it comes to learning how to eat this foraging staple—especially processing acorns to remove the bitter tannins—there’s a bit of a trick to it.
Unfortunately, beginners can sometimes meet with discouraging results. But never fear, wildcrafting enthusiasts. I’ve got a method for processing acorns that’s simple and fast.
It’s time for the easiest . . . acorns . . . ever!
How to Eat Acorns: Basic Prep Work
The Meat of the Matter
The first thing we have to do is get the acorns out of their shells. This is true for any processing method. Remember that larger acorns are easier to work with and produce more food for the amount of effort you put in.
Normally, I use a hand-crank nutcracker. But my nutcracker is lost in a box somewhere and will likely stay lost until we finish remodeling the attic. In the meantime, I can make due with a handheld nutcracker and a pick.
If you are using a handheld nutcracker for processing acorns, I recommend that you let your acorns dry out for a couple of weeks. They’ll be a lot easier to work with. If you have the rotary hand-crank kind, it really doesn’t matter.
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The Daily Grind
Once you have the nut meat out of its shell, I suggest grinding it up. Whole acorns can eventually be processed (usually), but crushed or ground acorn meat has more surface area to speed things along. (Hint: This is part of the secret to my super-simple method regarding how to eat acorns.)
If you come across acorns with bad spots, you can always cut those out. Or toss any that you’re not comfortable with. Don’t worry if some of your acorns have a little worm in them. If you’re brave, they’re edible, too, and even taste a little buttery.
Processing Acorns the Traditional Way
Acorns contain chemicals called tannins that make them inedible without processing. (A few oaks are reputed to be so light on tannins that you can eat them raw. But I’ve never encountered them.)
Traditional methods of removing the tannins come in “cold” and “hot” water versions.
Processing Acorns With Cold Water
The cold versions are fairly simple. You either place the shelled acorns in a bag and bury them at the bank of an active stream or place them in a bowl of water and change it frequently. The upside to this is that it requires little skill or effort, and it retains the acorns’ nutrition.
The downside of this method is that it takes a really long time. Depending on the amount of tannins in your acorns, how frequently you change the water, and other factors, you could be waiting weeks or months. Some Indians reportedly came back a year later to dig up their acorns.
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Processing Acorns With Hot Water
The hot method involves boiling the acorns in multiple changes of water. This is faster but can still take the better part of an afternoon. And here, too, we find some downsides.
In a survival or wilderness setting, this method would require a lot of resources. You need a good bit of fuel for your fire and several changes of water. There’s also some technique involved.
You have to pour already-boiling water onto the acorns each time. If you pour cold water onto hot acorns, you risk binding the tannins to them, and they may never fully come out. Finally, this method cooks out the healthy oils from the acorns, rendering them less nutritious.
What’s a wildcrafter to do?
Prepare to have your expectations blown out of the water by this super-simple method.
This is by far the easiest, fastest, and overall best method for processing acorns that I have ever come across.
First … Blend
Start by dumping your shelled acorns into a blender. Add water. The quantity isn’t really important. You just want the blender to be able to function.
Now start your blender and let it go until the acorns are ground to a pulp. The longer you let it blend, the better this will work. A minute or two is probably good.
In a survival scenario, you could accomplish the same thing with a rock. But until then, a blender offers a much faster and easier path to learning how to eat acorns.
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Now pour the “acorn smoothie” into a cloth strainer bag. In a survival situation, you could use a clean sock. Close the bag and hold it under running water in your sink.
Now … Squeeze
Massage the bag, first allowing it to absorb water and then squeezing it back out. Do this until the water runoff is clear. Now squeeze out all the water you can, open the bag, and have a little pinch of the acorn meal.
If it’s bitter, go back to massaging it under the water. Don’t be afraid to massage it a bit longer than you think it needs. Lingering tannins can throw the taste of your food off. The massaging process will probably take 3–7 minutes.
In a survival situation, you could do this in a stream or in a bowl, with a few changes of water.
Now you can wring out as much water as possible and spread out the acorn meal on a dehydrator or drying tray. Or put it in your oven on warm until it is completely dry.
Because this process preserves more of the acorn oils, your acorn meal may have a tendency to spoil. Stick your dried acorn meal in the freezer to maximize its life.
In a survival situation, you would ideally store the acorns in their shells and only process as many as you needed. Acorns can stay good all winter if kept in a cool, dry place.
How Many Ways Can You Eat Acorns?
Before I wrap up, let me give you a few example recipes that show you how to eat acorns. These are by no means the limits of what you can do after processing acorns, and a quick Google search will turn up several others for you.
But I’ll add in a little tip:
If you should find that you didn’t get all of those tannins out, and your recipe has some bitterness to it, try adding milk. Milk seems to bind with the tannins, making them fairly harmless.
Acorn Puddle Cookies
This one has a story with it. The first time I tried this recipe, I used a standard cookie sheet without sides. What I didn’t know was that as the acorn meal got hot, it would run right off the sides of the sheet and land on the cooking element, setting the oven on fire.
I did this two years in a row before I made a note in my recipe book. Let me save you the trouble. Use a cookie sheet with sides.
2 cups acorn flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1/8–1/4 teaspoon salt (to taste)
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Add up to 1/4 cup water, if needed
Mix ingredients together, and pour the mixture onto a cookie sheet (with sides). You can arrange them like cookies, but I’ve never had them hold together. Maybe you’ll have better luck than me. Bake at 350°F (175°C) for 10 minutes.
By the way, this isn’t my recipe, but I can’t remember where it came from. The original version wasn’t called a puddle cookie.
1 cup acorn meal
1 cup white flour
1 splash olive oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4–1/2 cup sugar
Mix everything together, and cook in the oven for 30 minutes at 400°F (200°C). Optionally, you can skip the sugar and pour maple syrup over the top when it comes out of the oven.
Simple Acorn Porridge
Just mix some acorn meal with water or milk (to desired thickness), and heat it up on the stove top. Add sugar or maple syrup to taste. Nothing fancy, but it’s a warming breakfast for a cool fall morning. Yum.
This one is a little different from the others because it does not call for processing acorns first. You grind up unprocessed acorns fairly fine in a coffee grinder. Then roast them on the stove top.
Remember to keep stirring the grounds. You want them to brown, not burn.
Boil the roasted grounds in water until it suits your taste. It’s good with a little milk.
Sadly, the grounds don’t seem to work in a coffee maker. They just soak up the first of the water and become an acorn gel. The rest of the water just runs around it. To have real success with acorn coffee, you’ll need to cook it over a stove top or fire, and then strain the grounds out afterward.
A Cup of Fall Comfort
Acorn coffee is one of the few coffee substitutes that I actually enjoy. It doesn’t contain any caffeine, and the taste makes me think of fall.
I’m not sure what exactly is going on that keeps this from being a bitter, astringent mess. My guess is that the roasting process somehow locks the tannins into the acorn grounds, keeping them from leeching into the coffee. But, as I say, that’s just a guess.
If you’d like to see some more acorn recipes or approach the traditional methods with a bit more finesse, you can read about that here.
What Do You Think?
Feeling more confident about how to eat acorns yourself? Do you have an acorn recipe or advice on processing acorns that you’d like to share? Tell us all about your experiences in the comments below!
This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on October 24, 2018. The author may not currently be available to respond to comments; however, we encourage our Community members to chime in to share their experiences and answer questions!
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Scott Sexton is a TGN Trailblazer, a highly experimental gardener, an unrelenting weed-eater, and a largely non-profit herbalist (much to his wife’s chagrin). When Scott is not teaching foraging classes, testing out theories in the garden, or grazing in the forest, he can be found at his Facebook page, “A Forager’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.”