Acorn leaching process

Acorn trees

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Why leaching acorns?

For thousands of years, acorns have been a valuable food source for humans. However, consuming them directly from the tree can be unpleasant due to their bitter taste.

This bitterness is caused by tannins, which can have an astringent effect on our taste buds and even lead to kidney damage over time.

To make them edible and palatable, acorns must be leached in a process that involves soaking them in water to remove the tannins. Once this process is complete, the acorns become completely safe to consume and are actually quite delicious and nutritive.

In this post, we’ll explore the ancient technique of acorn leaching and how it can be done at home.

Before you start leaching acorns

There are quite a few ways to leach the tannins, but it can be summarised into two: cold leaching and hot leaching. The method you want to use is determined on what you want to do with the acorns afterwards.

The temperature at which you process the acorns is important. Boiling or roasting precooks the starch and therefore cannot be used as a binder in any recipe. On the other hand, cold leached acorn meal will thicken when cooked, as eggs would do.

Hot leaching is recommended for making roasted acorn snacks, burger patties, mock coffee, brittle, or adding to stews. On the other hand, cold leaching is more appropriate for producing baking flour. However, hot leached acorns can still be used for baking by adding extra binder.

Before leaching, it is necessary to remove the acorn shells. You can use a pair of gloves and a sharp knife to cut the husks and extract the meal. If you plan to use them as flour or coffee, it is okay to chop them into quarters. This method makes it easier to cut and dry the acorns faster than using whole acorns.

Cold water leaching for acorns

In nature, squirrels bury acorns in the ground, leaving them for extended periods, allowing rain and running water to naturally leach them. This method tries to replicate it in a controlled environment.

First, crush the acorns into small pieces or grind them into coarse meal to accelerate the process. It is essential to remove as much brown skin as possible before grinding, as it is quite bitter.

Next, soak the chopped acorns in several changes of water until the water runs clear or the acorns no longer taste bitter. Repeat this process multiple times, and do not let the mixture stagnate for more than a day, as it can spoil.

Alternatively, you can place the chopped acorns in a muslin or cheesecloth over a basket in your sink. Gently massage the cloth and keep the water running until the acorns are no longer bitter. This method is quicker but may result in some flour and oils leaking with the movement.

Now, the acorn meal is ready to use as baking flour, which requires further preparation.

Hot water leaching for acorns

By following this method, the tannins and the natural oil will boil off, resulting in a sweeter flavour.

Begin by placing your shelled acorns in a pot with cold water and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it simmer for 30 minutes. As the acorns cook, their skins will detach and float, making it easier to remove them with a skimmer. In the meantime, prepare a second pot of boiling water.

Once the water in the first pot has darkened, pour the acorns and water into a colander and transfer the hot acorns to the second pot of fresh boiling water. It is important to never place the acorns in cold water, as this will bind the tannins, leaving them bitter. Repeat this process by changing pots for a third and fourth time, and the acorns will be ready as soon as the water runs clear.

Leached acorns can be used immediately in your desired recipe or dehydrated, pickled in salted brine, or frozen for future use.

Is it really worth the effort to leach acorns?

At this point, you may be thinking that the process of leaching acorns involves a lot of work. And indeed, it does require time and effort. However, foraging is not only a way of sourcing food, but it’s also a lifestyle. By foraging and preparing your own food, you are able to experience new flavours, learn new skills, and utilize nature’s resources.

Acorns are a prime example of a food source that is often overlooked but is incredibly nutrient-dense. They contain a high amount of starch, which can be difficult to find when foraging. By taking the time to leach acorns, you are able to unlock their nutritional value and transform them into a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of recipes.

So while leaching acorns may require some effort, the end result is well worth it.

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Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

I am the human behind BritishLocalFood. As a forager and wild food educator, my aim is to inspire you to go outdoors, familiarise with your local plants and make the best of their culinary and medicinal properties, in the hope you'd pass on any knowledge gained down to the next generation.

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35 thoughts on “Acorn leaching process”

    • Hi Joanne, I meant that acorns will dry quicker after leaching if broken into small pieces, in case you intent to use them as ground coffee substitute. Also, you can dry them immediately if you don’t have the time to leach them immediately after picking, as otherwise they’d become mouldy.

      Reply
  1. I leached my acorns in hot water for like 7 hours but the water I put them to boil in was never clear. They’ve boiled dark the whole time and are dark brown and like squishy, I tried it but there’s no bitter taste. Why isn’t the water running clear? I was especially careful to not let them touch cold water or even cool down and was routinely boiling them for hours

    Reply
  2. H llo, I recently tried cold leeching a batch of white oak acorns (sawtooth) that I collected back in October, it it is now May and I started a week ago in April. I also used baking soda and the results seemed to be really good at first. Initially, I soaked them over night with the shell to soften them up and the shelled them with a large mortar and pestle, that worked fantastic! Then I cut each one in half. As I was cutting them I noticed that some were starting or had been sprouting. I kept the sprouted acorns, but I was sure to toss any that floated to the top. I however, left the ones that sort of hoovered over the bottom of the bowl. I kept clearing out the water two or three times a day at first. After several days, I started to only change the water on e or twice. I started noticing darker spots on the shells, but I assumed I was just getting the last of the really deep, rich tannins out. One day I went to my sister’s to do some morel hunting and the entire batch turned really dark like walnut dark. I was concerned about contaminating my dehydrator so I’ve had them drying Infront of a fan for a day or so two now. Of course, they are still black. Should I throw them out, make it out of them, dry them really well in the decorator and use them somehow, or squirrel food or fertilizer, or compost or what? I don’t know, but I spent a lot of time collecting them and don’t want them to go entirely to waste. I’m thinking of trying to make an acorn ink out of them like I did with my walnuts. What do you think?

    Reply
    • Hello Andy,
      It’s difficult to judge anything without seeing it, but as a rule of thumb, if something doesn’t look right, ir probably isn’t. I know it’s a lot of effort put into cold leaching, but the only way to learn how to do something is making mistakes. Just learn from the experience and toss it to the compost pile, though I guess the ink idea is worth giving a try too. That’s something I never tried before.

      Reply
  3. I have a Lot of acorns to process, and would like to do this over several months. I’m afraid the acorns will mold and allow the little worms to mature within the shell. I’ve tried to dry them inside my house, spread out in containers. When I went to remove the shells to process them I noticed some were moldy and at the bottom of the containers were several little worms.

    I tried drying them in the oven at 175 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour. The temperature was high enough to kill the worms and stop them from molding, but when I removed the shells the meat smelled sweet and a little like maple syrup. I’m guessing this began the hot leaching method and the flour would need a binder to use it for baking. Also I don’t think I can store these acorns and would have to process them as soon as possible or they would spoil.

    That leaves me with one other option and that would be to use a method of drying where the temperature goes no higher than 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Is this true? Doing it outside isn’t an option I’m in north east United States (Maine), and it’s getting cold and rainy.

    I’m going to try dehydrating them using a dehydrator in order to store them for processing them later, I just want to make sure this method will preserve them. I’m guessing the acorns would need to be stored in a cool, dark, and dry environment. On a funny note I remember my father stored walnuts he gathered in our attic to find out later squirrels found there way inside and looted all of them. We was pretty mad..

    I wonder what type of oak trees I have. A web sight said acorns are either white or red. I’m certain mine are red acorns since they have a thicker shell and have a fuzzy membrane over the nut meat inside. This membrane cannot be removed entirely so I’ll try your method of boiling them with salt for 30 minutes. Is there another way to remove the skin using the cold leaching method?

    Reply
    • Hi Christine,
      Perhaps a bit long to answer in the comment section, so I’ll try my best:
      -Worms can be avoided if acorns are submerged in water. Those with worms will float.
      -Mouldy acorns means improper storage and excess humidity. Best stored in breathable bags, such as hessian or similar and dried as soon as possible.
      -After one hour in the oven at a high temperature your acorns have been cooked.
      -In cold and rainy UK, I just dehydrate them in the radiators indoors. You can also use a dehydrator.
      -Consider alternative preserving methods such as pickling, freezing or making a spread similar to the French ‘Crème de Marrons’.
      -The skin can be removed by leaving the acorns 5 minutes in hot water, just like you’d do with almonds.

      Reply
  4. What if you have boiled the nut for 15 minutes about 8 times and the water is still brown but the nut is not bitter? Is it safe to eat?And I did put them in cold and warm water between boilings, over a period of about 24 hours. Also, if you do the cold water soak or the boil should we use purified water? There is chlorine in our tap water in USA.

    Reply
  5. I have just tried leeching my acorns
    Cut them in halves. They have all turned a brownish colour. Is this normal.
    Also what is best way too store unshelled acorns over winter

    Reply
    • Hi Nigel,
      The water gets brown because the tannins are released into the water, which is normal. (Don’t forget to remove the brown skin first! Otherwise they’d become very bitter).
      Unshelled acorns can be dehydrated in two ways: either leaving in the sun for a few days or in a dehydrator / radiator, separated in a single layer, until they sound a bit hollow in the inside. Them, they are ready to store for thw winter months.

      Reply
  6. I collected acorns from an English oak in October, chopped them up into small bits, have been leaching them in cold water ever since with 2-3 water changes per day, and they are still bitter. Did I miss the window and they’ve gone bad? Or is more time still needed? Please advise!

    Reply
    • Hi Katie,
      It’s difficult to tell what’s going wrong, it could be a lot of things! Did you remove the outer brown skin before submerging in water? Did you let the acorns stagnate in water for a day at some point? Were the pieces small enough? Could that be a different oak species?

      This process normally takes 1-2 weeks, but leaching them for months seems a bit too much, so perhaps they got spoiled?

      Bear in mind that they will never become sweet after cold leaching, as the process just removes the bitter tannins. It’s after baking with the flour that they release natural sugars and become sweeter.

      Reply
  7. Greetings, Mr. Docio. Thank you for the time and effort you have put into this article.

    I found myself with some less-than-stellar acorns this year. After drying and shelling, I find most are stained a dark brown to black. I assume this is (are?) tannins from the shells and am cold leaching them. Most of the color is coming out. Should I continue to leach the nut halves until the the water remains clear or stop when no bitterness is detected?

    FYI: this is a for fun project. If nothing else I will leach, dry, and feed them to the squirrels. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hi Joe,
      Acorns should not be black after dried, I am concerned they might be mouldy, perhaps?
      Generally, acorns dye water into a brownish colour and you should continue to leach until the water remains clear, ideally when no great deal of bitterness is perceived.
      If unsure, squirrels will appreciate them anyway. 😉
      Have a nice day!

      Reply
  8. Hi!
    Okay, I have been collecting my acorns over the past two or three weeks….. and guess what?…I am reading your article, Alvaro, and trying to decide which leaching process to choose….only to discover that half of my acorns have now sprouted! Is it still worth having a go? And if so, which process would you try? Hot water?

    Reply
    • Hi Lesley,

      Acorns change internally once they have sprouted. Starch turn into sugars, the texture becomes more rubbery and the nutrients change.
      They can still be processed and eaten, but the result will not be the same as for just ripen acorns.
      I would go for hot leaching and enjoy them as snacks, pickles or in soups, just because I think cold leaching for flour is not worth trying in this case.
      Hope it helps,

      Alvaro

      Reply
  9. Have you ever tried Oak leaf wine?I made it and it tasted very good.I take it that the tanins in the leaves gave it the body that a white wine needs.It didn’t require the the same process of boiling like Acorns do.I boiled the leaves first to extract the flavor.

    Reply
  10. Hello! I’m learning to leach acorns as a surprise for my mother. She has several trees at her new house but has no idea what to do with them. Does any one know how long after hot leaching and then roasting that they would stay good? I’m trying to time it to go with her Christmas this year! Thanks in advance!

    Reply
  11. Hello,

    I am using a new hot leaching method that includes adding baking soda to the water to speed up the leaching process.

    The comment on the other website where I saw that didn’t spell out the reasoning, but I’m guessing that changing the chemistry of the leaching water draws the tannins out faster by binding to them. This appears to be working beautifully, as I am only on the third boil, and this one may actually not be necessary! I filled up the pot this time before I tasted the nuts, since I am used to having to do many more boils. The boiled acorns have turned dark, but are not bitter at all now.

    For the first time however, I noticed that there are little droplets of what I think is acorn oil on top of the leaching water. Perhaps that was happening before, and I just failed to notice it. Your website mentioned that the hot process will leach out acorn oil with the tannins. Am I losing nutrients by doing that?

    Your site also states that if I use hot process leaching to make flour, I will need to add a “binder.” This is the first I’ve heard of that. What is a “binder,” as the word is used here? Please give an example of an additional ingredient and process in acorn bread making, since that’s what I leach the acorns for.

    I always use the hot process, both for speed and because I don’t have a stream or easy access to a flowing water source. I once had an unattended small batch go bad as you described when I put them in a bucket of cold water and forgot about them.

    Since I know that the acorn shells have tannins as well, I thought about concentrating them for use in a friendlier skin tanning operation. Oak bark is non toxic, as opposed to the current high tech method metals method, which is massively environmentally polluting. Research has shown that the old oak skin tanning method requires 120 pounds of powdered oak bark per cowhide, and that’s a lot of dead oak trees!

    Since stripped, dead oak trees is almost as bad a result as commercially poisoned water, I’d like to make a suggestion for the photographer who asked about concentrating tannins, even though he’s using it as a photo fixer and not to tan hides.

    Shell the acorns, and put them in a large tub of water outside, either cold processing or over a fire, hot processing them. Process the acorn meats separately for consumption, and throw the wastewater into the acorn shell processing bath so you’re adding the nut tannins to that. No waste! either boil of the water or allow the Fall sun to evaporate the excess water, which would concentrate the tannins. Once you have the proper concentration, you’d have photo fixer, or in my case, non tree killing, non metal toxic skin tanning solution.

    I know this is a lot for one comment, but I look forward to seeing what you have to say on all of my points, starting with the acorn oil / nutrition /binder issue, which for me is the most important of the questions.

    Reply
    • Hi Laurie,

      -Never heard about using baking soda, but I am sure I will try.
      I still have a batch waiting for processing.

      -Hot leaching will remove the oil with the tannins and therefore reduce the nutrition that comes from the fatty acids. On the other hand, your flour would last longer, because a high oil content can make it rancid over time.

      -However acorn flour should be made from cold-leached acorns, otherwise the heat would cook the starch. You need this starch to form a cohesive mass made from the flour, water and oil so you can shape your dough. If you use hot-leached acorn flour I would recommend you add regular wheat flour in the mix to help shape your dough. It will still retain the sweet nutty flavour of acorn bakes and the flour will go a long way.

      -I really appreciate your advice on the tanning solution, which I am really sure will be of big use to the poster below.

      Reply
  12. Hi!

    I would like to leech out the tannins and use the tannin infused water as a toner in an alternative photography project, therefore I would like quite a heavily infused tannin water. Are there tannins present in the shell/skin or should I just use the inside part? Time isn’t an issue so I don’t mind doing either the cold or hot method, but which is likely to remove the most tannins and then retain the tannins in the water ? I imagine grinding or breaking the acorns prior to leeching would be the most thorough way to extract the tannins?

    Reply
    • Hi Geri,
      Acorns are totally safe as long as you follow leaching instructions, the same way you should not eat uncooked butter beans or raw potatoes.
      There is no reason to be scared. You can even eat a raw acorn or two with no ill effects. However they are so bitter when unprocessed that you will not want to anyway!

      Reply
    • Hi Nicky. Acorns eaten as nuts are naturally sweet but those rarely grow in the UK. If you still want to eat them as nuts and you cannot find the right species, I would recommend roasting them in the oven after leaching. The method is up to you. Generally speaking, hot leaching is quicker but the result will be a bit mushier. Cold leaching is very slow as it can take days, but you will get the crunch.

      Reply
  13. Hi!
    I have made mock coffee after following a blog. It suggested you could boil the acorns with the shell on for 20 mins to remove tannins.
    Then cool, shell, dry for 24 hours, chop and roast.

    Is this okay? Or will there still be tannins in the acorns using this method?

    Olivia.

    Reply

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