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2017-11-23 17:20
By William R. Jones



As I walk daily from home to and from on our university campus, I pass a dozen willow oaks (Quercus phellos); trees that are predominant in our southern states. The last of the acorns have fallen and all the tree squirrels have collected their need and now seem to sleep a lot in their nests after leaving scads of acorns to be crunched underfoot. I thought about the acorn as a food source, but not these as they are miniature around 8-12 millimeters. If they are not at least 15 mm, then they are not much worth bothering with.

Ubiquitous and globally there has been estimated by different authorities at anything from 300 (Elias 1971) to 600 (Soepadmo 1972) species of oak trees and all produce acorns and all are edible. They were a reliable dietary staple of many hunter-gatherer cultures prior to agriculture. However, now, acorns are a marginally viable and popular wild plant-food source of nourishment.

But, always they are a favorite supplementary food for wildlife such as woodpeckers and magpies, deer and bears, and rodents among others. Also, acorns serve as fodder for pigs and other domestic livestock.

They are a reliable and rich source in nutritional value for carbohydrates as well as all nine of the essential protein amino acids, with eight trace minerals (especially Mg, Ca, and P) and six vitamins (especially antioxidant A and the B complex vitamins). They are high in fiber and low in sugar and lower in fat than most nuts. Not all oaks are created equal; and speaking of living off the fat of the land, their acorns range in fat content from 1.1 percent to 31.3 percent, protein 2.3 percent to 8.6 percent, and carbs 32.7 percent to 89.7 percent (Bainbridge 1986, UCLA). Thus, acorns are nutritionally comparable to other nuts and to cereal grains.

The practice of making dotorimuk (acorn tofu aka acorn jelly) originated in the mountain areas of ancient Korea. It was widely eaten during the Korean War, when millions of people were displaced and starving.

Palatable processed acorns are a “must-have” good eating item upon shop and store shelves and within restaurants as an appetizing dish, especially in South Korea. Yet, several Native American tribes and enthusiastic foragers have not abandoned what was once on the Massachusetts Pilgrims’ menu and survivalists today seek it and know it as a good quality food.

In nature only about 1 in 10,000 acorns will become a full grown tree that produces its first yield after 15 to 25 years depending on the species. A mature oak can produce up to almost 454 kilograms of acorns in one growing season during normal weather conditions in a good year. For about every two cups of acorns you gather, you will get about one cup of nut meat.


The writer (wrjones@vsu.edu) has taught conversational English for 15 years. He currently works for Virginia State University.


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