Acorn Quercus spp Fagaceae

Acorns have been a fat-rich (but protein-poor) staple foodstuff in temperate oak forests throughout the northern hemisphere. The best-known users were the hunter-gatherers of 19th-century California, for whom acorns, particularly from Q. kelloggii, were the most important food. Acorns were knocked from trees each autumn by shaking or beating with long poles, and then stored in pits or granaries. After removing the shell, acorns were pounded into flour in bedrock mortars. The bitter tannins were removed from the flour by leaching with water. Acorn flour was used to make acorn bread or, most often, eaten as acorn mush, a kind of soup. Acorns were also one of a number of nuts, including hickory nuts, collected by Native American farmers in the eastern United States. Here acorns were leached in water, or sometimes boiled in a lye made from wood ash to neutralize the tannins.

In the Mediterranean, particularly Spain and Sardinia, acorns from various species, including Q. ilex, were important foodstuffs until the mid-20th century. Acorns were most often consumed as bread after the tannins had been removed by boiling, or neutralized by use of lye or clay. In Spain and Portugal pigs are commonly fattened on acorns in oak forests. In the Near East sweet acorns from Q. brantii were a staple food in southeast Turkey until the 1940s, and are still widely eaten as a snack by shepherds. In Japan wild nuts were of great importance in mountainous areas until the 19th century. Acorns were leached, pounded into flour, and eaten as cakes. In Korea acorns are an important foodstuff, prepared as a jelly-like gruel known as "mook" and also used in noodles.

Archaeological evidence of nutshells and, in California, bedrock mortars, demonstrates that acorns have been important foods in these regions for thousands of years. They were never domesticated, probably because of their unpredictable tannin content, and because oaks do not produce acorns until the tree is twenty or thirty years old.

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