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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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acorns the nuts borne by oak trees, Quercus spp. Of the hundreds of species around the world, many yield acorns suitable for animal fodder, but only a few bear acorns acceptable as human food. These have been eaten since prehistoric times, and still are, but their use has greatly diminished.

The best and sweetest acorns are from the ilex (or holm, or holly) oak, Quercus ilex ssp rotundifolia (formerly ballota), which grows all round the Mediterranean and in W. Asia. It is common in Spain and Portugal, and varieties of it are cultivated there for their acorns, the best of which are comparable to and eaten like chestnuts. The Duchess who, in Don Quijote, asked Sancho Panza’s wife to send acorns from her village would have been seeking especially fine specimens of this kind. Such acorns are longer than most, and cylindrical in shape. The Spanish name bellota is derived from the Arabic ballūṭ, from which comes the former variety name ballota. This name is also used by Mexicans, but in reference to the acorns of Q. emoryi. The cultural practice of acorn-eating is called balanophagy, from the Greek balanos.