Are Hickory Nuts Edible? Different Types Of Hickory You Must Know

Moumita Dutta
Aug 31, 2023 By Moumita Dutta
Originally Published on Oct 29, 2021
Edited by Monisha Kochhar
Fact-checked by Sakshi Raturi
Are Hickory Nuts Edible? Different Types Of Hickory You Must Know

Except for those who have a nut allergy, most people enjoy the taste of nuts.

One of the fleshiest and calorie-dense nutmeats have to be hickory nuts. And, you will be surprised to know that pecans are actually species of hickory nuts.

Most people will pick up a bag of hickory nuts from the supermarket, but you may have seen hickory trees in dense wild forests or in your backyard and wondered if you can eat the nut.

Even though you can dare to pick it up and proceed to crack its shell open, it's always good to stop and think if it will be edible nutmeat.

Hence, we have come up with this guide for those people who like to go on adventures of collecting nuts or would like to know more about hickory nuts.

If you enjoy this article, why not also read about are bay leaves edible or are beans a vegetable here on Kidadl?

Are all types of hickory nuts edible?

You might be surprised to know this, but all hickory Carya species are edible to humans, and none are poisonous. However, some types of hickory nuts, like the bitternut hickory, have a bad-tasting outer shell that needs to be discarded before eating.

In total, there are 18 types of hickory trees, amongst which 12 are native to North America. The southern shagbark hickory is one of the most well-known hickory species that has a nut covered in quite a bit of dark husk.

You can find the trees growing in areas with limestone soil and the fruit measures around 1-2 in (2.5-5.1 cm). Shagbark hickory has sweet nutmeat, and to get the flavor, you need to toast it lightly over a fire.

The shagbark hickory nuts were used by Native Americans to make hominy and corn cakes.

Other than that, wood from the shagbark hickory tree is often used for smoking meat, and the Native Americans even made bows out of it. The kernel of shagbark hickory nuts is usually of a pale color.

Apart from the hickory nut, you will be amazed to see the shagbark tree in the wild as it seems to have constantly peeling or cracked bark. So, seeing the peeling gray bark, you can easily identify these trees while foraging in the wild.

Next, we have the bitternut hickory that has relatively thin husks on the nut, and the fruit is also quite small, standing at about one and a half inches. Trees of bitternut hickories mainly grow in dense wet forests, and it has dark brown nutmeat.

As the nut has a bitter taste, this is better to be left for squirrels.

You can identify these trees because of the gray-green bark, and it's common to find beetles burrowed into them.

The kingnut hickory or shellbark hickory is mainly found in the wet forests, and it's known to have the largest fruit amongst all hickory species. The shellbark hickory is quite long, but the nut is covered in a dark brown husk that can be easily broken to reveal the sweet nut.

The pignut hickory is named after the round appearance of its fruit, which resembles the nose of a pig, and these trees have quite a small fruit.

The light brown nut of pignut hickory is covered in a thin husk, and even though the pignut can be eaten, it's known for being bitter. But, you can find people foraging for pignut hickory because it can be toasted and then ground into a powder form to be used in baking.

These hickories have hard shells and need to be cracked with the help of a hammer.

Amongst all the hickory nuts that we consume, the most common has to be pecan or Carya illinoinensis. A unique thing about the pecan is that the fruits grow in clusters of three to six and the fruits have a thin husk.

The kernel of its fruit is sweet and oily, which makes it easy to eat the nuts raw. Pecan nuts are quite an important product as it's used to produce oil and several food items.

Moreover, during the chilly fall season, nothing can taste better than a pecan pie. You can also find people foraging for pecan nuts.

Similar to the pecan and walnuts are the sandnut hickories that can be easily used as a replacement in food recipes. This hickory nut tree is known for producing the smallest nut, which can even measure just half an each or about one inch.

The shell is usually light brown, and the round fruits also have thin husks.

Red hickories also produce a sweet nut that can be eaten raw, just like walnuts. And, the trees produce small wide fruit with a thin dark brown husk that covers the nut.

Another well-known hickory species is the mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa) that grows in slopes or ridges of dry areas. The mockernut fruit measures around two inches, and apart from its shell, the nut is covered in a thick husk.

The mockernut hickory meats are also known for being sweet. But, it's commonly eaten after brining and then baking the nut to give a savory flavor. Also, these nut trees can live for a long time of up to 500 years.

Where are hickory nuts found?

Doesn't it feel good when you find out that there's a hickory nut tree near your home? Well, hickory trees are a widespread plant species that are mainly native to North America and Eastern Asia.

However, different species of hickory are growing all over the world as it's widely cultivated for timber. Especially, the hickory tree variant that produces pecans (Carya illinoinensis) is the most commonly found hickories.

If you're in North America, check out the different USDA zones where hickory nut or walnut harvest takes place to hunt down the trees. Hickory trees are also often found in temperate forests where it provides shelter to animals. You can also find squirrels and other similar rodents collecting hickory nuts for the winter.

Are hickory nuts edible for dogs?

When it comes to hickory nuts or pecans, it's best to keep these away from your loving furry friends. Though these nuts aren't inedible or poisonous to a cat or a dog, your pets often don't have the gastrointestinal makeup to digest the nuts.

Moreover, as hickory nut kernels tend to be on the bigger side, it can even become a choking hazard, and in some rare cases, the nut may even cause intestinal blockages. Also, if your neighborhood or backyard has a hickory tree, make sure that your dog isn't unknowingly munching on the fallen nuts.

Often a mold grows on the husk or shell of hickory nuts which can cause seizures in dogs.

So, make sure that your dog isn't roaming around the tree or forest. Also, make sure not to give your dogs any walnut as it is a fruit similar to that of the hickory species.

Did You Know...

Hickory nuts are great as food because the meat is thick and nutritious. When you forage for nuts in the wild, you may find brown and green nuts on the ground around the tree.

Try to find hickory nuts that have brown husks to be sure that it's ripe, as green ones are usually from undeveloped fruits. To use the nut, you will need to remove its thick shell, and you can use a hammer to crack it open.

If you have never seen a hickory nut before, try to find a ripe brown fruit that looks somewhat like a walnut, but it has a smaller size.

Also, try to look for shells that don't have any mold or signs of rotting. Fall is the right time to look for these nuts as it starts to fall from the tree even with the slightest blow of wind.

Some people like to test the nuts by placing them in water to see if the nut will float.

Floaters are usually discarded. Also, if you are doing the whole process in the wild, try to open the fruit and take out the nut for a taste test to make sure that it's not one of the bitter nuts' hickory species.

While breaking the shell of hickory nuts, make sure to place it on a hard and flat surface to crack it open either with a hammer or a nut-cracker, just like walnuts. And, even though it can be eaten raw, it's better to eat hickory nuts after they have been lightly toasted on the fire.

You can also store toasted nuts for a long time to be used while baking or even on top of your salad, and it tastes good along with walnut.

Another way to use hickory nuts is to extract the oil from them. To do it, you will need to boil the nuts in water for half an hour and wait for them to cool.

Collect the solidified fat that has accumulated at the top and use it like any other oil.

Or, you can even turn it into nut butter. Or, you can also learn the way to make nut milk from the hickory nuts you have collected, and it would taste great with your morning coffee.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for are hickory nuts edible then why not take a look at are black-eyed peas beans, or are gourds edible.

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Written by Moumita Dutta

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

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Moumita DuttaBachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism and Mass Communication, Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Management

A content writer and editor with a passion for sports, Moumita has honed her skills in producing compelling match reports and stories about sporting heroes. She holds a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Calcutta University, alongside a postgraduate diploma in Sports Management.

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Fact-checked by Sakshi Raturi

Postgraduate Diploma in Management

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Sakshi RaturiPostgraduate Diploma in Management

Sakshi has experience in marketing strategy, social media planning, and recruiting industry experts for capstone projects, she has displayed a commitment to enhancing their skills and knowledge. She has won multiple awards, including a Certificate of Appreciation for Creative Writing and a Certificate of Merit for Immaculate Turut, and is always seeking new opportunities to grow and develop.

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