According to a friend, summer has officially ended. It’s not because she has tucked away her white shoes until next Memorial Day, nor because OSU football has taken over central Ohio like a crimson and grey hurricane. It’s because the season for allowing her dogs to be off leash on their 4 acre property has ended. Acorns have littered the woods around their house and the deer arrived to gorge on them. Like so many places, the Bambis of the world have learned that they have little to fear from suburbanites and are quite bold in their pursuit of these carb laden nuts. Since the deer are not fazed at the sight of people within 30 feet or so, their dogs now have to be on lead so that they do not engage in a 5K deer run.
So why do deer love acorns? Are there some types they prefer over others? And can people and dogs eat them? These are the questions that came to my mind when she told me about the all you can eat Quercus* buffet. According to the Whitetail Journal on Grand View Outdoors.com, ” Deer love these nuts because they’re large in size allowing deer to consume them quickly, and they’re packed with nutrition. It’s like a protein bar for wildlife.” The author goes on to add that 100 grams of acorns (3.5 ounces) contains “40 grams of carbs, 23 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein. (For comparison, a boiled egg and a half cup of black beans each have 6 grams of protein also, but zero carbs).” Pretty good stuff if you are trying to fatten up for winter!
Deer also have preferences for certain acorns, based primarily on the tannin content of the acorn. Tannins make the acorns bitter and at higher levels can make the protein harder to metabolize** Acorns with lower tannin levels are preferred. Here the “Recognized Acorn Priority Preferences” according to Realtree.com (listed from most (1) to least (5) favorite):
- White Oak: Low tannic acid level makes this the sweetest of all acorns. Generally, they produce a heavy mast crop every third year and a decent crop every year.
- Pin Oak: Low to medium tannic acid level. Typically produces a crop every other year.
- Water Oak: Low to medium tannic acid level. Typically produce a crop every year.
- Red Oak: Medium tannic acid level. Deer usually won’t feed entirely on red oak acorns because of their bitterness.
- Black Oak: Produces a crop every other year. Medium to high tannic acid level. Usually a good spring food after winter thaw.
- Bur Oak: This is a very large acorn with medium to high tannic acid level. The large size makes them more attractive for consumption.
- Live Oak: Typically produces a crop every year. Lower in preference due to high tannic acid levels
Can people eat acorns? Yes. But tannins are not tasty for people either and can also cause kidney problems in humans. “Native Americans depended on acorns as part of their diet, particularly the Yurok and Karuk tribes of California. The shelf-life of an acorn – which Native Americans would store up to two years to compensate for off years when the mast crop wasn’t abundant – made these nuts useful as an insurance food staple.” (Whitetail Journal).
Tannins can be removed from acorns. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac you can do it one of two ways: repeatedly boiling the acorns in pots of water until the water runs clear. “This may take an hour or more, depending on the variety of acorn.” Or, alternatively, “you can soak the raw acorns in cold water to leach the tannins out. Change the water when it turns a darker color. This process may take several days, depending on how long it takes for all the tannins to leach out of the acorn meat.” Obviously this is not a project for the “need something in a hurry ’cause the kids are starving” crowd. But, once you make the flour, it seems to me that you are one step away from acorn bread, acorn encrusted chicken fingers, acorn coffeecake (served with chicory coffee), but I digress…***
The final question is: Is it okay for my dog to eat acorns? The answer is (as you have probably guessed): no, not really. According to Banfield Pet Hospital: “Acorns can be toxic to pets if ingested. They contain tannins, which can cause stomach upset and diarrhea in some pets, and in particularly bad cases acorn ingestion can cause abdominal obstruction, internal damage, and kidney disease. Keep your dog from eating them if at all possible.” Yet another reason to keep your dog on a leash in the fall!
*Quercus is the genus for oak trees.
** This why you should not feed acorns to cows! The tannin levels can cause ulceration and kidney failure.
***I do remember that in the book, My Side of the Mountain, (which I last read in the 4th grade, some 100 years ago) the hero made acorn pancakes. I don’t remember if he leached the tannins out, but I think not, so he probably needed a lot of syrup…
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