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You roast them until dark brown, almost black. Like dark roasted coffee or dark chocolate. They contain caffeine like stimulants and an extraordinarily rich flavor profile.

They are related to avocados, in the Laurel or Lauraceae family, and their fruit when fully ripe can be eaten like an avocado. The leaves, although 3 times as strong, can be substituted for the European Bay Leaf, the “Bay leaves” you buy at the store, Laurus nobilis.

The edible uses of these trees and their growth were covered in my recent class, How to Eat Acorns and Bay Nuts.

California Bay Laurel trees are also involved in the phenomenon of Sudden Oak Death. Ask me how.

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26 Responses to “How to Eat Bay Nuts (Umbellularia californica)”

  1. Patty says:

    I am from Coos Bay OR originally, and am from the Coos tribe. We live near myrtlewood (the usual Oregonian name for ‘bay laurel’) northern natural limit. The nuts were a traditional food (in our language called shichils) but when I was growing up no one ate them any more. So this year, I picked a few & roasted them, altho’ I did not get them as dark as yours in this video. Got the ‘burnt popcorn’ note all right, along with hint of coffee and chocolate. Definitely oily. Traditionally, our people never ate the outside skins – just the nut part, after roasting in ashes. Well, I am going to try and find some more nuts next year (this year, the trees where I live were pretty light on fruit) and see if we can revive this as a traditional food. I like shichils a lot more than acorns!
    Thanks for your pointers, I’ll try some more batches next year with different degrees of roasting and see how it works out.

  2. feralkevin says:

    Thanks for sharing! I had never heard the name myrtlewood (I’ve heard them called peppernuts, and pepperwood.) Nor have I heard them called shichils (how do you pronounce this?) Great!

  3. Patty says:

    Well, if you ever visit the southwestern corner of Oregon (Curry County, Coos county, western Douglas county) you’ll hear these trees called myrtlewood about exclusively. People will look at ya funny if you call them ‘bay laurel’!
    Shichils is the Coos name for the nut. The ‘i’ is short, like the ‘i’ in the English word ‘bit’. Shih – chills. (There is a different word for the tree itself – wægænhl).
    I am looking forward to reviving this annual harvest as a living tradition again. I am surprised more people don’t eat them today, they are pretty good.

  4. Justin says:

    I just tried some and all I can say is
    eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeew

    maybe I cooked them to much, they were in there for like 45 mins.

  5. feralkevin says:

    Usually people don’t cook them enough. They should be a bit burned tasting, actually. Of course this is an ingredient, a roasted bay nut is like a dark roasted coffee bean, people don’t just eat them straight.

  6. Gina Solomon says:

    Wow! Thanks for the info and the instructional video! We’re having a great year for bay nuts in the San Francisco area this fall. We collected some on a hike this weekend because we heard they could be roasted. Here goes trying. Wish us luck!

  7. Lindsay says:

    Kevin — can you tell me… Why did you make the point to say the nuts had been in a bag for 2 years? Is it necessary to dry the nuts for 2 years before roasting?

  8. feralkevin says:

    I made the comment about two years to demonstrate another of the bay nut’s amazing properties — that they keep for long periods of time. They store well. That’s all.

    As far as curing them (drying them essentially), yes this needs to be done in my experience and according to my sources –, from 2 weeks to a month.

  9. kris says:

    Can you plant the nuts to grow a new tree?

  10. feralkevin says:

    Yes, you can plant the stored but still viable seeds and many will grow into seedlings. However, bay seedlings grow very slowly.

  11. [...] were in search of Bay nuts (inspired by Missa who regaled me with stories from the Women’s Herbal Symposium while I [...]

  12. I just found this thread and it looks like I’m joining it a few years late, but thought I’d add in a few notes here and there.

    In my experience the roasting needs to be usually around 20 minutes and always at high heat, like around 425 – 450 degrees. If you roast them at too low a temperature it will make them bitter and inedible. Roasting at too low a temperature is the biggest mistake people make.

    I’ve also found that roasting them until they are almost burned is taking them too far and is not as good as roasting them until they are a nice chocolately brown, like coffee with a little cream in it. Everyone has their own tastes but most of my students have also agreed. So, Justin: if you found them disgusting then the reason is most likely that you way over-roasted them in time and/or under-roasted them in temperature. If you had been roasting them at the right temperature of 425 degrees then they would have been completely charcoal and way overroasted after 45 minutes.

    When they have been roasted properly, they are delicious in and of themselves. They can sometimes be an acquired taste, but I’ve found that people who like dark coffee and dark chocolate almost always love roasted bay nuts.

    The bay nuts have a ton of oils in them so they will catch on fire at a certain point and completely combust. Once they have actually burned, they make a really fun black oily body paint!

    Tamara Wilder – Paleotechnics.com

  13. feralkevin says:

    Thanks for your comments, Tamara! Much appreciated. I usually roast them at 350-400, depending on the oven, and it seems to take 30-45 minutes for them to be done. One mistake I’ve seen a lot of people make is that they roast them before they are dried. In my experience, I agree that the taste is better at first when they aren’t so dark in color, but then the throat burn factor often still kicks in. I try to get rid of the throat burn factor by roasting them darker. I often use my nose to tell, as it is usually quite clear when the oils start to evaporate correctly — I can smell them. Happy bay nut experimenting!

  14. Thanks for responding Kevin. I agree that one of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to roast them fresh (undried). If you do that then they make the shells explode and will probably end up bitter.

    It sounds to me that the reason you are getting that throat burn factor when they are roasted more lightly is probably because the roasting temperature is not hot enough. Our experiments were a long while back but I remember that there was a sort of threshold around 425 or 450 where that effect went away. My theory is that the volatile oils need to be removed quickly with high temperature, otherwise they don’t completely go away and instead somehow get baked in. You can definitely smell when that volatilization happens.

  15. Hi Kevin: I recall an email from you a few years back regarding baynuts and the bay article on paleotechnics.com , which is still available. I’ve also just recently posted a shorter article about baynutting that links the old article. That is on our new paleotechnics blog @ http://paleotechnics.wordpress.com

    The stability of baynuts is due to the fact that the oils are very saturated. Saturated fats are more stable because all the binding sites are “taken” by hydrogen already making them unavailable for the oxidation that causes rancidity. Of course we’ve been told that saturated fats are bad for us, but it’s turning out to more likely be the other way around. Saturated vegetable oils like those found in baynuts just got lumped in with saturated animal fats and were considered guilty by association. Saturated animal fats are probably by and large even more beneficial, though that has to do with nutritional content rather than properties of the oils. BTW, Lauric acid is the same fat that is so coveted in coconut oil and has many alleged health benefits. Here is a link summarizing the emerging (yet ancient) fats paradigm. http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats/skinny-on-fats

  16. melanie says:

    Hi Kevin!
    I am one of the unlucky ones who roasted without drying the nuts at all. After 30 minutes or so, they are light in color, with some having exploded around the oven and smoking up the room. Are they salvageable, able to be changed into our favorite, buttery chocolately nut? Or, shall I just gather another round and go from there?

  17. feralkevin says:

    If you started roasting them before they were dry, I do not believe they are salvageable, no.
    Are you still finding ones right now that are still good?

  18. melanie says:

    Yes! There were a bunch of shriveled pods at Henry Coe State Park this weekend, up on a ridge where we camped. So I brought a bag home to experiment.
    It looks like half of the nuts roasted alright, I think I’ll stick them in at 350 for a bit longer to see what happens! Thanks, Kevin!

  19. Andrea says:

    FYI Melanie (and all), foraging on Cali State Park land is prohibited.

    Link (someone else’s blog) with foraging restrictions for all types of public land:
    http://arcadianabe.blogspot.com/2012/03/rules-for-foraging-on-public-land.html

  20. Robert says:

    I bought a new property with tons of bay laurel trees and we roasted some nuts and found that the ones pre dried are better. This season we are going to try to harvest 50 pounds. I am interested in the stimulating properties of this nut, what are others opinion on this?

  21. Christopher says:

    I have a large specimen in my front yard, well north of its native range, in Portland, OR. I guess the winters are _just_ mild enough.

    I’m fond of dark chocolate and coffee flavors, so I’m interested in giving roasting a try — problem is that dozens of scrub jays descend on the tree every fall and eat every single nut as they ripen (at least all of them the squirrels can’t reach). Jays are crazy for the things. :-)

  22. feralkevin says:

    I have never seen jays or squirrels eating bay nuts. I’ve seen animals eat the fruit, but the nut is usually too strong for them. Interesting.

  23. Lindsey says:

    Hello Kevin,
    I took your walk, with my mom, this past summer and learned about bay nuts from you! Thanks by the way. Anyhow my boyfriend and I gathered a few pounds of them in very early October, and have been drying them for three weeks now. We plan on drying them one more week, and then roasting them. They look quite blonde, and we are curious if this is because that is how they appear when they are dry, or because we harvested too soon? Do you know if they will turn out ok having been harvested so early in the season? We picked them off the tree, rather than from the ground. I collected another batch yesterday, and they were all on the ground. I’ve cleaned those, and will dry them out as well. I will experiment and post again to let you know the results of the two different harvests.
    Thanks again!

  24. Denise says:

    I was wondering if there is a way of finding out if they are dry enough? I have been keeping them near the woodstove to promote the drying. Do you think that will hurt the flavoring? Thank you for posting this article, I have learned alot.

  25. feralkevin says:

    So long as it’s not extra humid where you are drying them, if they have been around a couple of weeks forgotten about and they haven’t molded, then they are dry. One way to tell is to crack a few open and place them in a small zip lock bag. Seal it and let it sit for a few days. If condensation or moisture builds up, they are not dry. Bay nuts are a food that is meant to be stored for use all year. They don’t have a season for eating, only a season for gathering. I just don’t think about them for several weeks when they are sitting to dry. By the time I do, they will certainly be dry enough to roast.

  26. Lizzie says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I live in the Santa Cruz mountains where a large bay tree on our property next to a creek drops large nuts in the fall. In the past I considered this a nuisance because the nuts hit the house with a hard thud and makes a mess of our back deck area. I noticed the squirrels do eat the nuts which begged the question if they were fit for human consumption. I found a website yesterday that educated me that indeed the bay nut can be consumed by humans. I grabbed a basket and collected many whole fruit and some loose nuts that had came out of the shells during the hard fall to our deck tile. I placed them on a cookie sheet where they sat on my pellet stove for an hour until they all were dry. I rubbed the dry shells with coconut oil and sprinkled Celtic salt, than roasted them as directed “450 for 20 minutes stirring regularly until a nice coffee with cream color appears.” They looked perfect and tasted okay for a first timer. I decided I could cut the bitterness by coating the shells with honey and slow roast an additional 10 minutes. They came out super delicious except I do not think I roasted them long enough initially. You suggest waiting until they are dark like dark coffee, “almost burnt looking.” The other website stated “like coffee with cream.” I would agree that a little darker would have been a good idea to give the nut more of a crunch. Also, its really important to advise newbie-nutters to only eat 1 or 2 nuts until your body adjusts to the stimulant. I made the mistake of eating 4-5 nuts in a sitting and got quite an upset tummy.

    I bet you might be thinking I was crazy to add the coconut oil to the nut shells before roasting at 450 degrees. You’re right – although it did make them taste extra delicious it causes the shells to get way to hot, thus my kitchen got a bit more smoky than anticipated. I would use the coconut oil to roast again because of the flavor having it and the salt added to the taste of the nut. A little kitchen smoke is harmless but one must watch the roasting process carefully if your going to use any kind of oil on the shells. You don’t want a kitchen fire!

    Thank you for all the great information!

    Lizzie

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