Pine nuts are the edible, teardrop-shaped seeds of pine trees. The tree currently has 126 species, but only around 20 of them produce seeds that are large enough for harvesting.
These nuts are one of the oldest nuts that have been in existence since the Paleolithic period. In Greece, they were not only eaten dry, but they’re also preserved in honey. In Italy, they’re known as pinoli and they’re an essential component of their pesto sauce. They’re also often added to salads, vegetables, fish, meat, or baked goods. Meanwhile, they can also be pressed into extracts to produce pine nut oil. This oil is valued for its mild, nutty flavor.
Genus: Pinus L.
Species: Varied (20 species)
Binomial Name: Varied
Pine Nut Trivia
- Pine nuts are one of the most expensive nuts in the market not only because of the time required to grow them but also because of the concerted effort to harvest the seeds from their case.
- Pine nuts are not fruits. Instead, they are seeds that are grown in the pine cone that’s been left for at least 3 years before harvesting.
- Pine nuts are typically processed to make them tastier. For example, Siberian pine nuts are kept the way they are, but other types are roasted with or without salt for a better taste.
- The ancient Greeks and Romans consumed pine nuts with almonds and honey before lovemaking. The nuts are claimed to enhance performance due to their aphrodisiac properties.
Pine Nut Buying Guide
Although pine nuts can be easily found in the supermarket, they can be very expensive. Thus, it’s very important to choose the best ones so you don’t waste your money. Below are few tips that might be helpful when buying pine nuts:
- If you buy them from a bulk provider, smell the nuts and avoid the ones that have a rancid aroma.
- If you’re buying from large supermarkets, you can find peanuts in four locations: the produce section, the baking section, the gourmet section, and the nut section. Thus, if you find them in two or more locations, compare their prices by the ounce. Interestingly, you’ll discover that they have different prices.
- As always, buy from a reputable, trusted, and has a good turnover source to assure the freshness of the product.
Pine nuts also have many varieties. Although we cannot discuss them all on this page, here are four of the most popular ones:
- New Mexico or Colorado pine nuts (Pinus edulis) – This variety has a rich buttery taste. They are the most valuable pine nut in the world, but their shell is too hard to crack with your fingers. Thus, they are commonly roasted in the shell – just like sunflower seeds. When eaten raw, the nutmeat provides a buttery golden color. Once roasted, the color gets richer as the oils emerge.
- Chilgoza pine nuts (Pinus gerardiana) – This variety occurs in Afghanistan and Pakistan where it has been the traditional food of the nomadic tribes. It features large cones with long, hooked poles containing long and boat-shaped seeds that have a one sharp end. Thus, they are best to be used in confections since they are easier to insert into cakes and sweets.
- Italian Stone pine nuts (Pinus pinea) – This variety is very common in the European market and grown throughout the Mediterranean region. However, this variety has a rather bland flavor.
- Chinese or Siberian pine nuts (Pinus sibirica) – This variety are mostly imported from China though they are of the Siberian pine variety. They are smaller, harder, and have a pointier end compared to the other varieties. They also have a wonderful pine nut oil content and a very delicate nutmeat. Because of this, this variety requires constant refrigeration to keep fresh.
Pine Nut Production & Farming in Texas
Fortunately, Texas grows 3 out of the 24 pine species in the world that produce pine nuts worth eating. The Pinus remota grows sparingly in the westernmost part of the Hill Country around Rocksprings, and more abundantly in the mountains of northern Mexico, which is a day trip from Austin. The Pinus cembroides, is found abundantly in northern Mexico and in the Chisos and Davis Mountains of Texas. The Pinus edulis, is found abundantly in New Mexico and Colorado, where Texans are most likely to forage pine nuts.
Regardless of which variety, pine trees mature for at least three years. In fact, it takes anywhere from 15 to 25 years for the trees to start producing seeds and up to three times that time for them to reach top production. The pine cones take about 18 months to mature and 10 or more days for the pine nuts to be harvested. The nuts are very difficult to remove that’s why the cones are usually placed in a burlap bag and dried out under the sun for 20 days to speed up the process. Then, these cones are smashed to release the seeds, which are then separated from the cone by hand. In addition, each pine nut has a second shell that also has to be removed prior to eating. Some shells are thin and easy to remove but others are thicker and more challenging. Since pine nuts are small, one must be very careful of this process. Thus, all these time and labor efforts contribute to the expensive price tag that’s attached to every pine nut in the market.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
Just like other nuts, pine nuts are mostly pure. They do not contain any chemicals that are harmful to our bodies. However, some packages contain some flavorings like salt and extracts to intensify the flavor and prolong their shelf life. Thus, also consider checking out their sodium content and buy the ones that are low-sodium or with less salt. Better yet, purchase the unsalted ones and season them yourself.
The geography and production of pine nuts vary based on the species. Russia is the world’s largest producer of Pinus sibirica, followed by Mongolia. Despite this, the majority of their harvest is exported to China. Afghanistan, China, and Korea are also an important source of these nuts. Moreover, the nuts that come from Europe are mostly stone pine or Pinus pinea though Pinus cembra is also grown in this area to a very small extent.
In North America, three varieties are abundantly grown: Colorado pine nuts or Pinus edulis, single-lead pine nuts or P. monophylla, and Mexican pine nuts or P. cembroides.
In the United States, pine nuts are abundantly grown in the western and southwestern regions, by the Uto-Aztecan Shoshone, Navajo, Paiute, Pueblo, Hopi, Washoe, and Hispanos of New Mexico.
Pine nuts are most commonly sold without the shell. However, in some areas, you can find them in the shell. Either way, they usually come in airtight packs and bulk bins. But, you may also see them in either resealable or non-resealable bags, canisters, plastic jars, mason jars, and foil-lined cans.
Enjoying Pine Nuts
There are many ways to enjoy pine nuts and they’re even an essential ingredient in some areas. In Europe and Asia, they are commonly added to fish, meat, salads, vegetable dishes, and bread. In Italy, they’re an essential ingredient to make an Italian pesto sauce and torta della nonna, an old recipe for any kind of cake, a tart, or a pie filled with custard and topped with pine nuts. In addition, pine nuts are also essential to make pignoli cookies, which is an Italian-American confection that’s made of almond flour formed into a dough and topped with pine nuts. In Catalonia, a confection is made by covering marzipan balls with pine nuts. In southwestern France, pine nuts are also topped on salad landaise.
Meanwhile, pine nuts are also widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine such as fatayer, sambusak, kibbeh, and baklava.
Moreover, in the United States, especially in New Mexico, pine nuts are being turned into a dark roast coffee that features a deep nutty flavor.
Nevertheless, pine nuts are, indeed, versatile. You can eat them raw or cooked, and you can add them to almost everything from savory and sweet dishes to beverages.
Just like the other nuts, pine nuts that are still in the shell are more likely to last longer because of their protective casing that restricts air and moisture that can cause rancidity. However, regardless if they’re in or out of the shell, the high oil content of pine nuts can make them turn rancid quickly if not properly stored. Thus, both shelled and unshelled pine nuts should be kept in an airtight container, which should then be stored either in the refrigerator, where it would last for 1 to 2 months, or in the freezer, where it would last for 3 to 6 months.
As mentioned, pine nuts are globally prominent and consumed. They can be roasted, baked, stir-fried, sautéed, and even turned into confections and beverages.
Pine nuts are made with 68% fat, 14% protein, 13% carbohydrates, and 2% water. They’re also a rich source of numerous micronutrients, especially manganese where it provides 419% of the daily value, along with phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, niacin, and many more.
However, since pine nuts are high in calories because of their high oil content, they are avoided by a lot of people. But really, the truth is, these fatty acids fight the LDL or “bad cholesterol” and increase the HDL or “good cholesterol.” In addition, they’re also high in pinolenic acid, which is known to curb cravings and reduce appetite. Not to mention that they’re a good source of protein and fiber too. Thus, nuts like pine nuts are really helpful in losing weight or treating obesity.
When Are Pine Nuts in Season in Texas?
To find out when Pine Nuts are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.