Acorn nut butter, or a creamy spread made from acorns, is an easy acorn recipe that just about anyone can make. Acorns are an abundant woodland food source, and growing peanuts (or almonds) is tricky up here in the north country, it’s easy enough to fill a silo with free acorns.
When life gives you acorns, make acorn butter?
This fall we made it our mission to collect and process as many acorns as possible. Generally, acorns are processed into acorn flour or grits, for either baking or porridge. But I got to thinking, isn’t an acorn a nut? Couldn’t you make woodland nut butter from acorns?
A bit more research and I learned that acorn butter is actually pretty challenging for a number of reasons.
- Acorns are Mostly Starch ~ Unlike other nuts, acorns are relatively low in protein (around 7%), and most varieties are also low in oil. While some select have as much as 30% oil, most are under 10%. That means the vast majority of an acorn’s bulk is made of carbohydrates.
- Acorns require leaching to be edible ~ The tannins in acorns contain anti-nutrients, and without leaching, acorns are unpalatable and actually rob your body of nutrients as the tannins bind minerals in your body.
Obstacles, to be sure, but I wasn’t deterred. The acorns can be leached first, then dried and processed into acorn butter. Adding additional oil isn’t that big a deal, and a teaspoon or two should be enough to bring the nut butter together.
When I’ve made homemade almond butter in the past I’ve always had to add a small amount of oil to get the nuts to form a butter (rather than just nut flour).
My initial plan was to cold leach ground acorns in cold water until the tannins were removed (several days). Then dry the acorn flour, add a bit of oil and process it further into acorn butter.
Then I came across two other methods….
Desperate Traveler’s Acorn Paste
There’s another acorn butter recipe in the Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook, which cites a passage from A Clash of Kings, referring to a desperate travelers acorn paste made by Arya:
“Whether they’re braving the Kingsroad during war, fighting beyond the Wall, or foraging in the last days before the long winter, acorn paste can satisfy travelers’ hunger. Even children have no problem preparing this food in a moment of need. This spread goes nicely on biscuits and bread—a luxury in the wild.”
The cookbook suggests just roasting acorns and then pounding them with a bit of vegetable oil to get “acorn butter,” basically the same way you’d make homemade almond butter. They make no mention of leaching the acorns, likely because they’ve never actually tasted an acorn. Arya may be a fictional character, but she’s got her wits about her, and I’m sure she hot-leached the acorns before roasting and grinding them.
That’s actually the way that bushcraft acorn coffee is made in the woods, by hot leaching, then dry roasting the acorns. They’re then brewed into coffee rather than being pounded into butter, but the whole process takes place in the woods with no more than a pot/pan on hand, simple enough.
Acorn and Apple Butter
I found a reference to a German product called “NewTella” which is supposed to be a play on the name “nutella,” or the commercially available chocolate hazelnut spread. A man in Germany was processing acorns, leaching them, and then cooking the nutmeats with apple juice before pureeing it into a lightly sweet acorn nut spread.
I did quite a bit of research, and you can’t buy it anymore, but there is a good description of how to make it on the site Eat the Weeds:
“What I do to prep acorns for consumption is let them germinate, so the starches turn into malt sugar. I’ve only just developed a new product with acorns to introduce this precious nut to the public because acorns are generally considered inedible here in Germany. NewTella is a sweet bread spread just like Nutella, the famous hazelnut creme, except that all ingredients are locally available, it has less sugar and the only fats are from the acorn.
The basic preparation is to roast leached, peeled and germinated acorns, boil 1 part acorns with 3 parts of apple juice, when soft process them smoothly, add 20 % sugar with pectin. This bread spread is also a great way to preserve acorns and can be used for cookies. It’s a great way to promote this gigantic untapped resource and jazz up general nutrition.“
(Though the acorn/apple spread is no longer available, a version made with acorns and oyster mushrooms is available when I wrote this, but the site is longer up as of 2023.)
How to Make Acorn Nut Butter
While we made a good bit of cold-leached acorn flour, that’s the good stuff, that’s best for acorn baked goods. I’d rather save it for that, given the choice. I also made a good bit of hot-leached acorn flour, so I’m going to try using them to make both acorn butter concoctions listed above.
Start by craking the acorns with a hammer, nutcracker or knife. Place them in water and boil for several hours, changing the water out every 30-60 minutes.
Check the acorns periodically by tasting a small bit. Once they no longer have any trace of tannin flavor, you can stop the hot leaching process.
The total time will vary based on how much tannin your acorns have. I’ve heard from others this process took about 5 hours, but mine took about 8 hours of stovetop simmering to remove every last bit of tannin flavor.
Next, if your acorns have papery skins, it’s a good idea to remove them. I’ve read that white acorn seed coats tend to fall off on their own during the cracking process, but that red acorns really cling on. We don’t have white acorns locally, but the seedcoats on our local red acorns really cling on tight.
I wasn’t able to remove the seed coats when the acorns were raw, but after cooking they slipped right off in my fingertips. Just imagine you’re sliding the seed coat off peanuts, it’s about the same thing.
The acorns are pretty wet at this point, and I left them to drain on a towel for an hour or so.
This is where the two processes diverge. The “newtella” version takes these leached acorns and simmers them in 3 times their volume of apple juice. You’re more or less concentrating the apple juice into cider syrup, which adds moisture and sweetness.
I’d guess that you could also just add a few tablespoons of maple syrup for the same effect, and then skip this extra boil altogether.
The sweetened nut paste is then either pounded by hand or processed in a food processor. The resulting acorn butter is sweet, with a slight nuttiness, and a good bit of apple flavor.
It’s an apple acorn spread, and while tasty, it’s not what most people would consider a true “acorn butter.” It actually reminds me of old fashioned apple butter, just thicker.
The game of thrones recipe, on the other hand, is more like actual nut butter. The hot-leached acorns are quite soft after all that boiling, and they need to be roasted to drive off some of the water.
A basic recipe for roasted acorn nutmeats has you spread them on a tray and roast at 375 for 25-30 minutes. A bit hotter and longer and you’ll brown them into the base for “Acorn Coffee,” so be sure to stop at roasted but not totally browned.
At this point, the acorns are a lot like any other roasted nut. They were tasty to eat out of hand, and I actually stored some in a jar in the pantry for several weeks. They kept just fine since the roasting process dehydrated them.
They are harder than most nuts at this point. Perhaps I roasted them a bit longer than necessary. I’ll try less roasting next time.
Place the acorns in a food processor and add a bit of neutral oil to help the nut butter come together. I often make homemade almond butter, and it usually doesn’t take more than a tablespoon of oil to get the nut butter to form.
Acorns, on the other hand, took more like 1/3 of a cup (to 1 cup acorns). A little research and this amount actually makes sense.
Almonds are around 50% oil, while acorns are usually much lower, less than 10%. There are some specific oil varieties of acorns, but based on the taste and texture of our local variety, I’d guess they were the low oil type.
I used almond oil as a relatively neutral oil. If you want to go with something a bit more “wild,” rendered lard is a good option, and would result in thicker nut butter.
I’ve also recently found that my favorite foraging Author, Sam Thayer, sells home pressed acorn oil. That’d be perfect for an all wild acorn butter.
The roasted acorn butter “game of thrones style” was much better in my opinion. It tastes a lot like any other nut butter, rich, nutty, but with a distinctive flavor that’s all it’s own.
I saved the roasted acorn butter for sandwiches. The apple/acorn paste, on the other hand, was already half way to cookies.
A friend of mine is fond of flourless maple almond butter cookies that are made by mixing maple syrup, almond butter, an egg and a pinch of baking soda. I already had the first two ingredients covered, so I added an egg and a pinch of baking soda and made acorn butter cookies. Bake for 12 minutes at 350 and you’ve got flourless acorn butter cookies.
The cookies were surprisingly cakey, especially since they didn’t have any actual flour inside. The baking soda reacted strongly with the acidity from the apple juice, giving them a light and airy texture. Add in the fact that acorns are mostly starch, and you’ve got a fluffy muffin top of a cookie.
Not bad for something mostly found in the woods.
We have a lot more acorn recipes coming this year, and next up is acorn ice cream…stay tuned!
More Foraged Food Recipes
Looking for more ways to keep it wild in the kitchen? Read on…
- How to Make Birch Bark Flour (and Birch Bark Shortbread Cookies)
- How to Make Cookies After the Apocolypse (100% Wild Foraged Cookies)
- Pemmican Lollipops for Your Bushcraft Sweetheart
- Clover Blossom Flour
- Dandelion and Honey Ice Cream