Each oak tree species has its own acorn, and each one of them tastes slightly different. Considering that there are hundreds of acorn species, it’s easy to imagine that some of them actually taste good. Some are more bitter than others, and a few even have what resembles a sweet flavor.
We will discuss why most varieties are bitter and which acorns taste the best.
Why Are Acorns Bitter?
The main reason why raw acorns are bitter is because of a compound called tannin. Tannins can be found in many plants, including certain types of fruits. They are beneficial for the plant, as they protect it from predators and diseases. However, tannins can make acorns quite distasteful and feel astringent in the mouth. It can even be toxic for humans if consumed in large quantities.
The concentration of tannins depends on the oak tree species; the more tannins an acorn has, the more bitter it will be. That explains why some species of acorns taste better than others.
Do All Acorns Have Tannins?
Some varieties have low amounts, but all acorns contain at least some tannins.
Tannins in white vs. red acorns
Generally speaking, one rule can be applied to acorns when it comes to tannins and bitterness: the nuts produced by the white oak trees are less bitter than the ones from the red oaks. That’s because there are higher concentrations of tannins in the red acorn family.
An interesting fact illustrates this perfectly: In the woods, animals like squirrels and deer eat white acorns from the floor first. They also find them less bitter. When white acorns are scarce, they turn to red ones.
But keep in mind that this rule has a few exceptions; some red oaks produce acorns with low tannins, and some white oaks with high tannins.
Which Acorn Species Taste the Best?
Remember that when I say “taste the best”, I do not mean that some acorns are sweet or have some sugar content. Sweetness is not a trait of acorns. Therefore, when I talk about the best tasting varieties, I mean that they are less bitter. An appropriate alternative name for this list could be “acorns that are lowest in tannins”.
The following are some of the acorns that are the least bitter. Not surprisingly, most of them belong to the white oak family:
- Sawtooth oak (Quercus acutissima)
- California live oak or coast live oak (Q. agrifolia)
- White oak (Q. alba)
- Swamp white oak (Q. bicolor)
- Turkey oak or Austrian oak (Q. cerris)
- Japanese emperor oak, daimyo oak, or Korean oak (Q. dentata)
- Oregon white oak, Oregon oak, or Garry oak (Q. garryana)
- Holm oak (Q. rotundifolia)
- Valley oak (Q. lobata)
- Bur oak or mossycup oak (Q. macrocarpa)
- Chinkapin oak or Chinquapin oak (Q. muehlenbergii)
- Valonia oak (Q. macrolepis)
- Pin oak or swamp Spanish oak (Q. palustris)
- Sessile oak, Cornish oak, Irish Oak, or durmast oak (Q. petraea)
- Common oak, pedunculate oak, European oak, or English oak (Q. robur)
- Schuette’s oak (Q. x schuettei)
- Post oak or iron oak (Q. stellata)
- Cork oak (Q. suber)
- Compton oak (Quercus x comptoniae)
- Chestnut oak (Q. montana)
- Emory oak (Quercus emoryi)
Can You Eat Unprocessed Acorns that Have a Low Tannin Content?
Even though some varieties have low levels of tannins, you should still process them before consuming them. As I mentioned before, they still have some tannins. And if you eat a lot of it, you will still be ingesting a considerable amount of tannins and exposed to some of their adverse effects.
However, leaching acorns low in tannins may not be as urgent as their more bitter counterparts. I still recommend it, but you can use other less aggressive techniques. For example, roasting acorns in the oven is not as effective, but it will still reduce the phytic acid and tannin levels to a certain degree. It’s also much faster than boiling, so it’s a good alternative if you want to eat your acorns and don’t have the patience to boil them several times.
Eating unprocessed acorns usually happens outdoors. Some people pick them up and try them. If they are not very bitter, they eat them. As a precaution, many campers roast acorns over a fire instead of eating them raw. This way, they get to enjoy the nutty flavor and still reduce some of the tannins.
How to Improve the Taste of Acorns that Are Very High in Tannins?
If you don’t have access to the varieties of acorns on the list above, you can still reduce tannin levels and make them more palatable. That is achieved by leaching the acorns in boiling water. Since what causes the bitterness is tannins, this process will significantly reduce it and make the acorns much more enjoyable.
And this time, I don’t recommend shortcuts like roasting them instead of boiling them. To make acorns high in tannins suitable to eat and taste better, you must cook them properly.
If you’re looking for less-bitter acorns to eat, I hope you like the varieties on my list. Most of them belong to the white oak family, but a few exceptions exist. Remember that the tannin content is the reason for the bitterness. And, even though some varieties have lower levels than others, some processing is still a good idea, such as a roast or fast boil.