Today I have a very special flour to share with you, acorn flour. Yes, that’s right, acorn as in the nuts squirrels eat.
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
Acorns are the nutrient rich nuts of oak trees. They have large amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fats, phosphorus, niacin and are a good source of fiber too. Modern research has confirmed that acorn flour is rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium; not only essential for human health but also things not found in wheat flour. It really is no wonder why acorns are a vital source of food for birds, squirrels, other wild forest animals, and great for humans too.
Acorns, and foods made with them, where common food for the ancient Arcadian and native Californian Indians. They are still consumed in different forms by Koreans, Chinese, Turks, Moroccans, the Extremadura people of Spain, Slavic people, and some Native Americans. In ancient history acorns were regarded a highly valuable food source. They were an abundant source of fat and carbohydrates in times when wheat and other grains were not consumed.
After leaching and grinding down the acorn to a meal or flour it was used in a number of different ways. The Native of Americans made porridge, soups and breads from the resulting ground up acorns. During World War in Germany and Switzerland acorns were ground and used as coffee — some people still use this as a coffee substitute. In Spain both sweets and liqueur are made from acorns. Additionally pigs are set loose in Spanish forests abundant with acorns to fatten them up; those pig are used for Iberian ham.
At some point in our history humans moved away from this nutritious food source, probably due to depletion of nut sources or introduction of grains. People swapped acorn carbohydrates for wild grains like wheat, rye, barley and spelt.
Nowadays, acorns are looked down upon; they are considered by many as low-class or poor people food. They were used in times of famine and during war, perhaps that is why the stigma currently exists among some people. The unfortunate fact is that we have forgotten all about the (research backed) nutritional value of acorns that our ancestors knew. I found a fantastic article published in National Geographic Magazine written in 1918, that still applies today, by C. Hart Merriam the founder of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, about the sad neglect of acorns as a food source. It is titled “The Acorn, A Possibly Neglected Food Source” and free to read here. http://soda.sou.edu/Data/Library1/030203d1.pdf
“That a food of such genuine worth should be disregarded by our people is one of many illustrations of the reluctance of white man to avail himself of sources of subsistence long utilized by the aborigines (Meaning the native American Indians). We seem to prefer crops that require laborious preparation of the soil, followed by costly planting and cultivation, rather than those provided without price by bountiful nature.” ~ C. Hart Merriam
Well, enough history, let’s talk acorn flour.
To put it in very basic terms, acorn flour is made by shelling acorns then leaching to remove the bitter and astringent tannins. (Apparently the leaching method can affect the taste and end product, as will the type of oak tree the acorns came from. Generally white oaks have less of a bitter taste than the red oak tree nuts.) After repeated leaching, and once the bitter taste has been removed, the nuts are dried then ground into meal or a fine flour. The process is lengthy and probably not something many of us are willing to attempt. However, if you are interested there is so much information about it online. This website is the best place to start, Honest-Food.net. Hank has several articles on foraging for acorns, making flour from them and some great acorn recipes too.
I didn’t forage to make my own homemade acorn flour — don’t think I would have the energy for the whole process. I found this acorn flour at my neighborhood organics and health food store. (Check yours to see if they carry it.) After doing some research online I can see how lucky I am to find it locally, not many local places carry it and those that do charge a hefty price for it. I paid the equivalent of slightly over $2 (USD) for 250 gm or half a pound for a great organic quality product — I’m super lucky!
The only place I found online that sells acorn flour is Sue’s Acorn Cafe and Mill based in St. Martinez, California. Sue hand selects the acorns, peels, cleans and grounds them all herself — wow! Through her website she sells acorn flour and a selection of baked goods made using her acorn flour. I can’t vouch for the products as I’ve never tried them, but it’s worth a try.
My store bought flour is very fine but I saw online that some people make coarser grades. This flour has a mildly sweet and nutty smell with tiny earthy after-tones. I placed a little bit on my tongue for a taste and it was sweet. After the sweetness comes that same taste and texture that you get from ground cinnamon, but no sting in the acorn flour– do you know what I mean? I found the taste to be quite pleasant.
Acorn flour is naturally gluten free and can replace wheat flour, other gluten free flours, or nut ones too. According to Hank of Honest Food, “Any chestnut recipe can become an acorn recipe, and in fact acorns have been used this way in Europe and North Africa for millennia.” *
Acorn flour can, and should be, mixed with other flours. Many recipes will combine wheat with acorn flour, but you may also mix with corn, oat and/other flours of your choice. The packaging on the one I bought suggests a ratio of 1 parts acorn to 3 parts wheat. Another source suggested that acorn flour should never make up more than 50% of flour called for in a recipe. Apparently too much acorn flour will result in a denser finish product. Another very important thing to keep in mind is that since there is no gluten the baked good will not rise; again that is why a mixture of flours is suggested.
It is also important to store your acorn flour in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The cold temperature prevents rancidity and extends the shelf life.
Acorn flour can be used to make cakes, cookies, muffins, pancakes, pasta, noodles, flatbreads, pizza crust, pie crust, and also for thickening sauces and soups. Since the acorns are naturally sweet one needs to be aware of the slight sweetness that will be added to the food made with acorn flour.
It has been so much fun experimenting with acorn flour. I have been using it in a few different ways and in a couple of days I will share the first recipe, the others will follow. I’m so excited to share them with you. Please come back in a couple of days to see my first acorn flour recipe.