- Urban foraging for acorns
- A little context about eating acorns in BC
- Identifying acorns and avoiding oak weevils
- Processing edible wild acorns at home
- Candied wild acorn recipe
- Common ways to eat wild acorns
Foraging for acorns was an easy place to start exploring edible nuts, fruits and vegetation where I live. I think identifying plants can less straightforward than other types of wild foods, and I’ve found it less beginner-friendly than other wild food avenues. But I’m excited to learn more about wild plant foods. However, I admit that I still think hunting, mushroom foraging and seafood harvesting are more efficient in BC & PNW (IMHO).
Urban Foraging For Acorns
I learned about processing acorns on Hank Shaw’s website a few years ago, but I never made time to gather them myself. Alexis Nikole of blackforager released an educational song on acorns last year that I recommend watching, too.
To be honest, gathering and processing acorns seemed like a lot of work. Culturally, I wasn’t familiar with eating acorns, and the idea of making acorn flour wasn’t that exciting. I struggled to use almond flour that I bought one time at the grocery store, so I definitely wasn’t making nut flour from scratch.
But in 2020, I had a lot of time to wander aimlessly around BC’s Lower Mainland. Towards the end of summer and early fall, I kept seeing acorns growing on oak trees, and then falling down, swept into city street gutters and park compost piles and ignored. There were so many fruiting oak trees in my neighborhood that I’d never bothered to notice before. I marked publicly accessible trees on a Google map through summer and fall so I could harvest fallen nuts later.
Last September (2020), I collected a bag of these acorn nuts from streets, sidewalks and leaf piles to take home. Nothing really tricky or hard about it, except that (1) picking up nuts off the ground and putting them in an old plastic bag is very odd–looking, and people in the city will give you side-eye for doing it in front of them, and (2) acorns are heavy, I’d use a backpack next time.
Urban foraging can be a little tricker than harvesting wild foods on truly public, rural land. The regulatory aspect is less easy to navigate. I try to make good choices based on my ethics, respect for others and ecosystem around me.
Here are the urban foraging principles I use:
- Don’t trespass on private or residential property
- Never harvest from private property, gardens, etc. without permission
- Only take wild growing foods that won’t be missed, in amounts that will have minimal impact on the ecosystem
- Only take a small percentage of wild growing food in one area
- Pick up litter I see where I’m foraging
A Little Context About Eating Acorns in BC
This post isn’t attempting to provide detailed context or a history of acorns, but it’d be an oversight to talk about harvesting acorns without saying that acorns are a traditional food of some Indigenous Peoples in Canada. I harvested these acorns in the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
Oregon white oaks are a native growing oak species in the Lower Mainland. Their acorns are considered to be mildly sweet with a high oil content that was valued for its rich carbohydrate and fat content, as well as minerals and amino acids. You can read more about traditional foods of Indigenous Peoples in Canada in this book by Harriet V. Kuhnlein and Nancy J. Turner (older, potentially not up-to-date) or read cookbooks like Where People Feast by Dolly Watts and Annie Watts, and A Feast for All Seasons and Native Feasts by Andrew George Jr.
I thought these acorns were mild-tasting, nutty (obviously) and a little sweet after processing. Their flavor was much less prominent than commercially-grown nuts like pecans or walnuts. The texture was quite firm, not unpalatably so, but definitely crunchier than a raw almond. However, that may be due to individual factors like dehydration or cooking time. I’ve only tried to eat this one type of acorn following this processing method, so results may vary depending on the type and method you choose.
Identifying Acorns and Avoiding Oak Weevils
I’m very upfront about being an amateur hobbyist and forager. I do this for fun; I’m not a professional or expert. I learned about identifying oak trees and acorns from Hank Shaw. Here’s a quick, not-comprehensive summary:
- Oak trees grow acorns. Acorns have bitter tannins that make the nuts inedible unless they are processed, or at least leeched before eating.
- All acorns are edible after processing and/or leeching. The amount of processing required depends on the oak tree and acorn variety. Uncommon “sweet” varieties can be theoretically be eaten raw, but experts recommend at least leeching them first to prevent tooth and gastronomic issues.
- Don’t collect acorns that have signs of oak weevil larvae infestation.
- Don’t collect or process acorns with signs of green meat, rot, etc.
I think the oak trees that I found could be Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana) based on the acorn shape, tannin level, and location, but I’m not sure. Fortunately, positively identifying the oak tree species isn’t necessary for processing and eating its acorns, as all acorns are edible after enough processing.
Processing Edible Wild Acorns at Home
I don’t want to seem overly negative when I talk about processing the acorns. I’m grateful to be able to gather them, and to have tried this activity, and to have been able to eat them. Not everyone has access to acorns and not everyone has the privilege to be able to try things like this for fun. So, I know I’m lucky. But to be honest, processing acorns was more difficult than I anticipated.
In hindsight, processing acorns was extra hard because I didn’t have the right tools or place to deal with them. My home isn’t well suited for the noise of cracking open pounds of acorns by hand, and I didn’t have a heavy meat tenderizer or full-sized hammer to crack the nuts open. Opening acorns was loud and I was only able to work on it during certain hours because I didn’t want to disturb my neighbors. The humidity was difficult due to my humid, poorly ventilated kitchen. And I had personal circumstances at the time that led me to be unable to focus or complete this task easily. Overall, processing acorns was a lot harder than I thought it’d be, but mostly due to personal circumstance.
Processing part of this batch of acorns took me about two and a half weeks in total, starting from washing the acorns to dehydrating them, with many starts and stops in between. I could have processed them in less time had my setup been better and I had more uninterrupted hours to focus on this just-for-fun project.
How to Process Wild Acorns
I used these steps to process harvested acorns foraged in BC*:
- Wash foraged acorns in water and soap
- Remove acorns that float or show signs of rot, damage, or oak weevil larva infestation
- Crack open acorn shell with hammer or meat tenderizer, using a towel and cutting board if necessary and helpful
- Remove acorn nut meat and set aside in pot of water, discarding the skin from the meat if possible. I tried to keep acorn meat in large pieces when able.
- Heat shelled acorns in water on stovetop until boiling. Water will turn dark colored as the tannins are removed
- Switch tannin water for clean water and repeat step 5 and 6 until water is lighter in color and acorns are no longer bitter. If you need to pause this process at any time, you can put acorns in water and store in the fridge for a few days before boiling again.
- Drain acorns when palatable and use immediately, or semi-dehydrate for later use using an oven, dehydrator, or well-ventilated area. I semi-dehydrated the acorns in a dehydrator set on low until they weren’t as waterlogged. After, I stored them in the sealed container in the freezer to preserve freshness. Acorns can be used immediately out of the freezer. Add extra time on to cooking or baking to allow for defrosting.
*These steps are for processing foraged acorns for eating whole or in pieces, not to make into acorn flour. Cold leeching is recommended for preserving gluten for acorn flour.
Candied Wild Acorn Recipe
My mom makes sweet and spicy mixed nuts recipe for Christmas every year, so she taught me to use whipped egg white to candy nuts. I’m not sure where her original recipe came from, potentially this sugar-coated pecan recipe. This isn’t much of a recipe because it’s based on personal tastes, not measurements, but if you’re curious, this is how I candy acorns:
Candied Foraged Acorns
- 2 egg whites
- 1 pound acorns, processed and dehydrated
- 2/3-1 cup sugar to taste
- cinnamon optional
- all spice optional
- ginger optional
- cayenne optional
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with silicone liner or parchment paper.
Whip egg whites with fork or whisk until foamy. Add sugar, salt, spices as desired, and adjust as needed. Only taste test raw egg whites if using pasteurized egg whites that are safe to consume raw. Add acorns and mix until nuts are fully coated with whipped egg-sugar mixture. Lay on baking sheet in single layer and put on middle rack of oven.
Stir acorns every 5-15 minutes as needed, being careful not to burn the sugar-spice mixture. Acorns are done when toasted and egg whites are cooked dry. Store in air-tight container in pantry to use or eat right away, or store in freezer for future use.
Common Ways to Eat Wild Acorns
Here are the simple ways I’ve eaten foraged acorns:
- Candied acorns, as a snack or dessert
- Spicy candied ginger cookies studded with roasted acorns
- Candied acorns topping baked sweet potato with seeds, plain yogurt and molasses
- Roasted acorns used as a topping for yogurt or oatmeal
- Mixed roasted nuts made with salty roasted acorns and store-bought raw almonds, pecans or walnuts
- Trail mix with candied acorns, dried fruit, seeds and nuts
You can use processed acorns like you’d use any raw mildly sweet, not-roasted nut in baking or cooking.
A note on the term “wild acorns”: The acorns I harvested were not technically wild in the sense that they are growing uncultivated and completely unplanned-for. White oak trees are native to this area of BC, but may be found in public city and suburban spaces. I use “wild acorns” to refer to these oak trees being planted for aesthetic reasons, not agricultural purposes, and that the resulting acorns were not intended / planned for human consumption in the areas I foraged for them.
This post was originally published on February 7, 2021 and updated on February 9, 2021.