Guide to Processing and Eating Acorns for Easy Survival

harvested acorns on tableAcorns are not just for squirrels and deer.

In a survival situation, you can collect, process and eat these nuts for a nutritious meal.

  • CLICK HERE to jump to nutritional information for individual types of acorns…

This is an emergency food that you can find in just about any part of North America during the late summer and fall.

However, it will require a little effort to remove the bitterness and make it more palatable. However, before you can process an acorn, you first need to learn how to locate one and how to harvest it properly.

How Edible Acorn Should Look Like!

Acorns Growing On Oak Tree

Sometimes, the biggest threat while lost outdoors is our lack of knowledge and not our lack of tools or gear!

Acorns can be a highly nutritious survival food, but you need to make sure that you know what you’re actually eating to not poison yourself.

While these have a distinct appearance, the buckeye and the horse chestnut look similar, and both are poisonous!!! So, the most important part is learning how to identify edible plants and seeds in your area.

First thing’s first, you need to understand what type of trees acorns grow on. Obviously, we are talking about oaks, and there are three different types:

  • White – Leafs with no prickles at the end and round lobes. Its nuts have a rounded point.
  • Black & Red – These have prickles at the end of their leaves. The acorn cups themselves have scales, the caps have hair inside and a sheath surrounds the nut. Those from black oaks are round with pointed ends!

By the way, at the end of this article you will find 2 great free publications on typical features of each of these trees! Acorns from black and red types will have higher amounts of tannins, which makes them more bitter than nuts from white one.

Did you know that bark can be ingested as well?

A Guide to Eating Tree Bark as an Emergency Meal

Avoid These 2 at All Costs!!!

While horse chestnuts and buckeyes are comparable in appearance, these poisonous “fruits of nature” have some tell-tale characteristics that will help you identify them when foraging for food.

  • Horse chestnuts – These are enchased in a green, spiky shell. Breaking it open will release the chestnut, which is a rich brownish red color. The nuts themselves are rounded and smooth with wood grain patterns.
  • Buckeye nuts – These look very similar the one mentioned above. They also have a smooth, round appearance and a deep brownish red color and are encased in a green, spiked shell. It also has a light tan colored “eye” that resembles the eye of a buck.


Acorns have a rounded shape with a pointed center and a “hat” on top, while horse chestnuts and buckeyes are rounded, smooth and a deep brown.

Nutritional Information for 3 Types of Acorns

It may seem surprising, but these “fruits of nature” are actually quite nutritious. Here’s a nutritional breakdown for acorns from the white oak tree:

  • 50% Carbohydrates
  • 4.7% Fat
  • 4.4% Protein
  • 4.2% Fiber

Just one pound of these will provide you with a little over 1,200 calories. Nuts from black and red oak trees have similar nutritional profiles, but have higher tannin levels and will require more processing before they can be eaten.

3 Great Tips for Best Harvest

Acorns are abundant in the fall, and white oaks produce their nuts every single year. Black and red types, on the other hand, only provide their fruits once every two years!

In order to harvest these, you first need to know where they usually grow and how to find those which are ripe enough.

Tip #1 – Find Locations Where Oaks Grow

These trees can thrive in just about any location in the United States – even in southern climates. Some can grow to be over 100 feet tall.

Tip #2 – Know When They Are Ripe & Dropping

Ripe acorns will have either fallen from the tree on their own, or fall down after a slight tap to the branch. Any fruits that are green in color should be avoided or discarded. The green, much like with other foods, indicates that it’s not quite ripe enough to be eaten.

Here is good thread on issue of when are these products of nature ready for harvest – The thick cap, or hat, should still be in place and there should not be any holes in the shell. These are an indication of insect or worm infestation.

Tip #3 – The Smaller The Caps The Less Bitter They Are

Generally, acorns with small caps are less bitter. Those from red and black oak trees have these covering at least half of the nut itself!

Those with smaller caps are usually found on white oaks and have a lower tannin content than their red and black counterparts.

Processing Guide – 3 Steps to Success

Step #1 – Identification of Bad Nuts

Worth learning:

Ways How to Start an Outdoor Fire Without Matches or Lighter

The first step to process your acorns is to go through your harvest and pick out any bad nuts! Firstly, those having holes in them should be discarded right away. This is a sign that it has already been infested with worms or other types of insects.

You should also perform the “sink or float” test to see which have gone bad. Generally, floating ones either have worms in them or have dried out and are not fit for consumption!

Step #2 – Primitive Shelling

If you’ve performed the float test in water, you’ll want to dry them out before you move to shelling. In a survival situation, your best bet is to leave the acorns out in the sun for a few days to dry out.

You may dry them over heat, but unless you have control over the temperature of the flame, you may wind up cooking these prematurely and hence ruining their taste. Shelling is the most difficult part of the process.

The simplest method is to pound them using a heavy object. If you have a heavy-bottom pan, a large bucket or even a large stone, you can place them underneath and smash to open them up!

Please note! You can also try using a hammer if you have one at hand. Just be careful not to pound so hard that you crush the nutmeat.

Step #3 – Removing Tannic Acid with Boiling Water

Remember those tannins we talked about earlier? Those are what give the acorn such a bitter flavor. To get rid of this, you have one of two options: you can leach in cold or boiling water. The second method is the simplest, but you need to ensure that you do it properly.

Cold leaching will require you to grind those nuts into a course meal and soak for several days or weeks while changing the water frequently. This can be very time consuming. In a survival situation, the easiest solution is the best:

  1. Place the acorns in a cooking pot and cover with twice as much water.
  2. Bring it to a boil and allow the nuts to boil for about 5-10 minutes.
  3. Pour out the dark, bitter water and repeat.
  4. You may need to boil and reboil them five or six times before they become palatable. As a general rule of thumb, you want to continue changing the water until it runs clear.

Extra advice: Make sure that you move them from one pot of boiling water to another as if you replace it with cold one, it will only bind the tannins instead of releasing them. Therefore, always place them in boiling pot!

Please note! Once they are leached, you’ll need to dehydrate them before you can store or process them into flour!

4 Safety Precautions to Know Before Ingestion

Please read these carefully:

  1. Avoid eating acorns if you are allergic to nuts.
  2. Try ingesting a small amount first to test your body’s reaction.
  3. Never eat them raw.
  4. Avoid eating those which are green or have holes in them.

If you will follow all this advice, then you should be safe and use acorns as an emergency survival food.

My List of Great Resources You Should Read

About Jim Worthersky

Hi, my name is Jim and my motto to live by is: Hope for the best while prepare for the worst. My hobbies are swimming, hiking, hunting, scouting & crafting.

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