Factors I consider include how long it takes us to harvest the nuts, how long to process them (if required), and how long to crack them out of their shells.
I rank nuts from most efficient meat yield to least efficient:
- Hazels (big nuts, super easy to crack, and I love their taste--perfect nuts if and when we beat the squirrels to them!)
- English walnuts (our staple foraged nut this past year)
- Chestnuts (I have only tried baking them in ovens and roasting them in fires. I still have some trouble peeling off the inner skin, which I can eat if I have to but which tastes bitter to me. Sometimes I get the cooking & cooling timing right and the skin crumbles right off when I rub it, but sometimes I either have to spend a bit of time on the skin, or just eat the chestnut still in its skin.)
- Black walnuts (Between husking them, then having to crack them in a vise instead of a regular nutcracker, then having to pick out the nutmeats with little picks, these take so long to process that even though I love their flavor, so far I eat way fewer of them than English walnuts)
- Beech nuts (lightly roasting them does facilitate shelling, but the small nut size means it takes a while to get much yield. Also, we still need to work out an efficient way to harvest them, such as a tarp/sheet to shake the nuts down onto; so far we have picked them up one by one which takes a while.)
- Prunus kernels (All the Prunus we've tried but the peach pits have very small kernels, and I have not yet figured out a way to hit pits with a hammer and consistently shatter the shell completely off. Sometimes it works out that way, but about 75% of the time I need to spend extra time pulling the kernels out of the cracked shell.)
- Sunflower seeds (small seeds mean it takes a while to get much meat out)
This season, we also harvested acorns, dock seed, and amaranth seed, but we have not processed them yet so I don't have even a gut feel for how much yield they give for time invested. I would love to try processing almonds raw from a tree, but have not had that opportunity. We hope to harvest some lamb's quarters (Chenopodium sp), butternuts, maybe heartnuts, and hickories this season to try out as well. I also want to learn when and how to harvest pine nuts and monkey puzzle nuts. And we hope that our yellowhorns will bear nuts next year so we can taste them for ourselves, plus of course learn how easy they are to harvest and use.
I will probably update this list in a few months after I try out some of the new nuts and seeds mentioned above. So consider this a rough draft!