Oak acorns and leaves. Photo: Getty Images
Acorn Flour Salvadoran Quesadilla
By Nadia Navarrete-Tindall
Dr. Nadia Navarrete-Tindall, the Specialty Crops Director at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO, is an advisor to the Grow Native! program, and owns Native Plants and More, a consultation business. She lives in Columbia, MO and is originally from El Salvador.
Native Americans and other indigenous people around the world traditionally used a large variety of native edible plants in their regular diet in the past, and although much knowledge about their use has been almost lost or forgotten, some continue to cook with native plants.
One common Native American food was oak acorns, and although their use is much less common today, they are still useful and tasty when prepared in a number of ways. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, raw oak acorns are rich in fat, protein, and carbohydrates and also contain potassium, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, calcium, and other minerals. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation and George Yatskievych in Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri, there are at least 19 native species of oaks (Quercus spp.) and 16 hybrids. They are divided into two groups: the white and the red-black oaks. The leaves of red and black oaks are lobed or entire with the major veins projecting as bristles. White oak leaves are lobed with no bristles. Oak trees are among the most important trees in Missouri, being dominant species in woodlands, forests, and savannas. Their acorns are a significant food for mammals, birds and insects, and even for domestic pigs. For humans, oak acorns can be used to make flour or added to regular meals for their nutty flavor.
All acorns are edible, although tannins make them bitter. White oak acorns have fewer tannins, and some white oak acorns are even naturally sweet. As for almost every native edible plant that I write about, there are reports of toxicity in some cases. In the case of acorns, after leaching, they are edible for humans; however, because horses and cattle consume the acorns outdoors, the tannins can be toxic to them, especially during dry periods when no other forage is available. There are even some reports of death. Wild animals and pigs, however, are not known to be killed by acorns.
Prepping Your Acorns
- Collect acorns as soon as they fall from the trees and store in a cool place until ready to process.
- Check acorns to make sure they are good for processing by eliminating the fused bracts (caps) and placing the acorns in a bucket with water, saving those that sink and discarding the floaters. Any acorns with a tiny hole means the acorn had weevils and should be discarded.
- Take bractless nuts and crack open. A hammer or an adjustable channel-lock type pliers work well. Discard the pericarp (acorn shell).
- Remove the thin seed coat. If the seed skin is hard to remove, dry the acorns until the skins become brittle and detach themselves from the acorns or are easily removed.
- To remove tannins to make them palatable for humans, leaching is necessary.
Leaching the Tannins
- Coarsely chop the acorns by hand or with a food processor.
- Leach them in a container with cold water.
- As the tannins are released, the water will turn a light brown color, so change the water daily for several days until the water is clear or the acorns are no longer bitter. Can take 5 days up to 2 weeks.
Making Acorn Flour
- After leaching, chop the acorns in smaller pieces in a food processor, until getting a ‘corn meal-like’ texture.
- Place the acorn meal on trays lined with wax or parchment paper.
- Dry it in an electric oven overnight by just using the heat of the oven light or use a dehydrator.
- The acorn meal should be stored in containers in a cool place for a couple months or, for longer periods, store them at freezing temperatures to protect from deterioration.
Salvadoran Quesadilla with an American Twist
Nadia’s own recipe for a traditional sweet bread
called “quesadilla,” prepared in her native El Salvador.
It is not a savory dish like the “Mexican quesadilla,”
although both have cheese, or “queso” in Spanish, as
one of the main ingredients.
- ½ cup whole wheat flour (use rice flour for gluten-free recipe)
- ½ cup oak ‘acorn meal’
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs or 4 small ones
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ cup butter melted
- Sesame and/or flax seed
- Heat the oven to 350˚ and butter a 9-inch pie pan. Set aside.
- Sift together the flour, acorn meal, cheese, and baking powder in a large bowl.
- Incorporate melted butter into dry ingredients and mix with a blender. Add the eggs one at a time and continue mixing until the mixture is creamy.
- Dispense this creamy mixture into the pan and cover the top with sesame and/or flax seeds. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick in the center of the dish comes out clean.
Makes 12-16 portions. It is better to eat it warm. It can be served with vanilla ice cream with maple syrup on top.
Try a warmed slice with ice cream and maple syrup.
Photo: Nadia Navarrete-Tindall