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Beechnuts are considered a delicacy by birds and numerous rodents, but the nuts were also once popular in human nutrition. In times of need after the Second World War, oil was pressed from the nuts, which was used both in the kitchen and as lamp oil. Even today, the nuts are a valuable ingredient in a number of recipes, although they are known to be poisonous. We explain why the fruits of the common beech are dangerous, but can still be consumed without hesitation.

Red beech fruits

The beechnuts are the fruits of the red beech, which bears fruit for the first time from the age of about 40 to 80 years. From then on, fruit can be expected every five to eight years, with the first fruits usually ripening in September. The harvest is particularly productive after a dry, hot year. However, the harvest is alternating, so that a bountiful harvest is always followed by a smaller harvest. If the climatic conditions are good, the common beech produces numerous fruits with the following characteristics:

  • sharp triangular
  • ovoid
  • about 1.5 cm tall
  • Nuts are surrounded by a brown shell

Healthy but toxic?

The fruits of the common beech represent a high-energy food for humans and numerous animals. Because they are characterized by a fat content of around 40 percent and provide a number of minerals and trace elements such as zinc and iron. However, the nuts also contain toxic substances such as the alkaloid fagin and oxalic acid. However, it should be noted that raw nuts in particular have an increased content of these toxins. Excessive consumption of raw beechnuts can therefore lead to symptoms of poisoning with the following symptoms:

  • stomach pain
  • a headache
  • shortness of breath
  • Vomit
  • ringing in ears
  • dizziness

notice: To date, there is no concrete information on how many raw beechnuts can be eaten without hesitation. While healthy adults can eat a handful of the fruit raw, to be safe, children and pregnant women should avoid eating raw nuts.

notice: Please note that this article is by no means a substitute for a doctor's visit. There is no guarantee of the correctness of medical statements.
Detailed information on first aid in the event of poisoning and important information on the poison control centers can be found here.

Also poisonous for animals!

While numerous birds and rodents prefer to eat the fruits of the beech tree, they pose a danger to other animals. Because the nuts are poisonous and seriously dangerous for calves, horses and dogs, among others. Because in larger quantities, the nuts can not only cause symptoms of poisoning, but even lead to death from respiratory paralysis. Some of the symptoms that animals may experience after eating beechnuts include:

  • pupil dilation
  • difficulty breathing
  • trembling and tumbling
  • colic
  • diarrhea
  • cramps
  • paralysis

notice: If poisoning is suspected, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately!

Make beechnuts edible

The fruits of the red beech contain, among other things, oxalic acid, which is also found in spinach and rhubarb. However, oxalic acid can be bound and thus made more tolerable for the body simply by combining it with dairy products. The toxin fagin contained in beechnuts, on the other hand, can be neutralized by heat because it is not heat-resistant. To make the nuts edible, there are two different methods:

  • roast in pan without adding oil
  • Advantage: better aroma
  • scald with hot water
  • Advantage: Shell is easier to remove

Peel the beechnuts

However, before the nuts end up in the pan or pot, they first have to be shelled. However, this process can be quite tedious with a large number of nuts, but there is a trick or two here too: Not all the shells are actually filled, so that excess work can be avoided in advance. Whether there are valuable seeds in the pods can often be seen from the weight of the nuts when they are picked up. Particularly light specimens can therefore be sorted out beforehand. Proceed as follows with the remaining nuts:

  • peel nuts
  • Clip the tip with your fingernails
  • peel off one side of the triangular sleeve
  • Put seeds in a glass of water
  • Seeds that sink to the bottom are "good yield"

notice: The nuts that remain on the water surface are usually only filled with a very small seed or not at all. However, these do not have to be disposed of, but can be fed to birds and squirrels in the garden.

use in the kitchen

The fruits of the common beech impress with their nutty aroma and are therefore suitable for a wide variety of recipes. Anyone who owns an oil press can produce high-quality oil from the nuts. Because 100 grams of beechnut oil contains about 15 grams of saturated fatty acids, 50 grams of oleic acid and 35 grams of linoleic acid. Alternatively, the nuts can also be roasted or ground into flour and processed further:

  • ground into flour: bread and biscuits
  • whole nuts: as a decoration on cakes or tarts
  • freshly roasted: sprinkle over salads, ideal for fall salads
  • for nibbling: Roast the nuts and then roll them in salt or spices
  • process into coffee

notice: Healthy adults can safely eat small amounts of raw nuts.

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