If you love foraging, you have probably heard of beechnuts – or beech masts.
They might not be the most common type of nuts in our diets today, but beechnuts have been loved since the Ancient Romans. These nuts are a mystery for most people – but could they be your next favorite ingredient?
Beechnuts have been the go-to resource since the times of hunters-gatherers.
Keep reading to find out more about these fascinating masts and bring them back to your dinner table.
Beechnuts: An Overview
Beech trees – known as Fagus – are a type of deciduous tree belonging to the family of Fagaceae.
Today, it is possible to find beech trees naturally growing in Europe and North America, as well as in temperate regions of Asia.
During the blooming season, beech trees bear both male and female flowers, usually pollinated by the wind.
While the flowers appear and bloom over Spring and the beginning of summer, the fruits appear at the end of summer and drop in autumn.
These fruits are the beechnuts. They are easily recognizable for their appearance and color: they are small, triangular, and encased in a hard husk.
Beechnuts represent an excellent finding for foragers who are looking to improve their diet with high protein food.
However, it is essential to remember that these nuts are not suitable to be eaten in large quantities and can be poisonous for pets.
Are Beechnuts Edible?
Beech nuts are edible and can be eaten either raw or cooked.
Today, we have proof that these nuts were a staple in many populations’ diets, including the Ancient Romans and Ancient Greeks.
During the times of hunter-gatherers, beech nuts were a great go-to food when agriculture was scarce.
While these nuts are highly nutritious, it is essential to remember that they contain a toxin called saponin glycosides, which is poisonous for humans and pets alike.
Eating a few raw beechnuts won’t cause side effects. However, when consumed in large quantities, it is possible to experience gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and nausea.
Ultimately, you have access to large quantities of beechnuts and wish to use them regularly in your diet.
In this case, you should consider cooking them or curing them, making them last longer, taste better, and be completely safe to eat.
Beechnuts are not as common or popular as other kinds of nuts because the process of picking them and preparing them is time- and effort-consuming.
However, just like other nuts, they are a superfood and a great addition to your diet.
Nutritional Profile of Beechnuts
When looking at the nutritional profile of beechnuts, it is easy to see the benefits that these foods can bring into anybody’s diet.
They are rich in B vitamins, iron, and zinc.
They are also exceptionally high in protein and low in carbs, making them food for a balanced diet.
Some of the values for 100g of beechnuts include:
- Fat – 50g
- Sodium – 38mg (2%)
- Carbohydrate – 34g (12%)
- Protein – 6.2g (12%)
- Iron – 2.46mg (14%)
- Potassium – 1017mg (22%)
- Vitamin B6 – 0.684mg (53%)
Naturally, some people might be more sensitive to the presence of saponin glycosides than others.
So, it is always recommendable to cook these nuts before eating them. Additionally, if you are allergic to other kinds of nuts, you should consider consulting your doctor.
What Do Beech Nuts Taste Like?
Beechnuts are triangular nuts that are covered in a hard husk when they drop from the plant.
On the outer surface of the husk, you will find a velcro-like, spiky cover that can be easily removed by hand.
Once you open the hard shell, you will find one or two triangular nuts with pointed sides.
They are usually wrapped in a softer case or inner cover. You can easily remove this with your hands, just like you would do for pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
To the taste, beechnuts are bitter and astringent because of the presence of tannins.
They also have a nut-like taste, but they are generally not as palatable as hazelnuts and walnuts might be. Indeed, the tannins in beech nuts are more similar to those of acorns and lower than those found in cashews and hazelnuts.
When foraging for beechnuts, it is recommendable to pick them and then let them dry for two to three weeks, making them more palatable.
How To Prepare Beech Nuts To Eat
Just like other nuts, there are endless ways to prepare and eat beechnuts.
While you might not easily find these nuts in your local store, you can successfully forage for them. Make sure you have a tree ID guide with you to make sure that you are picking the fruits of the right tree.
Once you have found a beech tree, you can decide to eat them straight away.
In this case, remove the outer husk, use your nails or teeth to break into the leathery case, and enjoy the beechnut.
Remember that the nut should be white. If it is not, it means that there is still one layer to get rid of. You can do so by rubbing the nut in your hands.
The thin patina that you might find on the nut might cause throat irritation, so it is always better to remove it.
If you have collected plenty of beechnuts and you wish to prepare them and eat them later, here’s what you need to know.
Removing the Husk
If you wish to prepare your nuts, cook them, or store them later, you will need to start by removing the husk.
While this step is straightforward and can do it by hand, you can also place many beechnuts between two towels, rub them, and then take the husks off the mix.
You will notice that the husks have small spikes. However, unlike walnuts or acorns, you can touch them with your bare hands as they are not spikey or hard.
Once the shell is off, you can remove the inner layer by biting or breaking the softer case. Now your nuts are ready to be prepared!
If you are struggling to get beechnuts out of their shell, the video below explains this step in more detail:
Once you have many beechnuts out of their shelves, you can consider roasting them. Roasting them is a great way to make a healthy snack. And, it allows you to get rid of any toxins remaining in the nuts entirely.
Once you have roasted the nuts, you can add them to your morning cereal or smoothie bowl.
Or, you can sprinkle salt over them, add them to bread, or create the perfect topping for a salad.
Other Beechnuts Uses
Beechnuts have been a staple food for millennials, and populations worldwide have made the most of this nut in several ways.
While there is proof that these nuts have always been eaten whole, you can also create flour out of them.
In some European countries, beechnuts are used to create a highly nutritious and healthy oil.
Other uses involve giving beechnuts to farm animals such as pigs.
Cautions About Eating Beechnuts
As we have seen above, beechnuts contain saponin glycosides. This toxin might not affect you if you only eat a small number of beechnuts.
However, if you plan on snacking on the several you have gathered, you should consider cooking them.
Indeed, by boiling them, pouring hot water over them, or roasting them, you will be improving their flavor while getting rid of any leftover toxins.
When Do Beechnuts Drop?
If you have started developing an interest in beechnuts and can’t wait to begin foraging them, it is essential to learn when they drop.
Just like many other plants, Beeches undergo their bloom season in spring.
During spring and the beginning of summer, the flowers are pollinated, and fruits start to appear.
These masts or beechnuts then drop from the plant in autumn. Ideally, you should go foraging for these nuts in late September.
While you can still find some of them in October, they might be hiding under fallen leaves and be much harder to collect.
Do Beech Trees Produce Nuts Every Year?
Beech trees take decades to reach maturity. Indeed, it is not uncommon for them to not produce flowers and fruits for 40 to 60 years!
However, these trees can live for over 300 years, and they will produce some beech nuts every year after reaching maturity.
Nonetheless, some years are much better than others when it comes down to foraging. Indeed, when the conditions are right, a “Mast Year” can happen.
A Mast Year is a particularly fruitful season for forest trees that produce high quantities of masts – or nuts!
Beechnuts are not the most-known nuts on the market today, but they are not a new entry either!
Indeed, they have been part of our ancestors’ diet since the times of hunter-gatherers, and they have been used for various purposes.
However, today, you can go foraging for these highly nutritious nuts.
While they do contain mild toxins, they can be safely eaten in small quantities, even raw.
If you prefer to add them to your cereals or salads every day, consider roasting or curing them.