All About Pine Nuts

Despite their name, pine nuts are not actually nuts at all. They are the seeds of the pine cone, which have been harvested for thousands of years because of their nutritional benefits and rich flavor. There are over 100 species of pine cones, however only about 20 species from 5 different regions produce seeds that are large enough to be eaten.

Types of Pine Nuts

North American Pine Nuts (The South West Region of the United States and north Mexico)

The pinyon pine nut, grown in the United States and north Mexico, includes both the singleleaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla) and the Colorado pinyon (Pinus edulis). Pinyon nuts have the highest protein-­‐to-­‐fat ration of any other nut, making them an important food for Native American tribes in the southwest. They also are often sold in the shell, which is thinner and easier to crack than other pine nut species.

Our pine nut, the Nevada Great Basin pine nut (pinus monophylla) has a fruity flavor and is promoted for its large size, sweet flavor and ease of peeling.
The pinus edulis (New Mexico, Colorado) are rich in oils and have a buttery taste. Their draw back is the hard shell and the amount of work necessary to extract the nut.

European Pine Nuts (Central Europe and the Mediterranean Region)

Throughout Europe the pine nuts used are traditionally from the European Stone Pine nut Pinus pinea). Their slender shape and light flavor make them a popular ingredient in Spain, Italy, southern France, Greece, the middle east, Turkey and north Africa cuisines.

Russian Pine Nuts

The Russian or Siberian nut (Pinus sibirica) is smaller, wider and rounder than most pine nuts and has a beige, thin shell. They are not as popular as European or Asian pine nuts, but are popular with natives in their regions.

Middle East Pine Nuts (Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of northern India):

The Himalayan or Chilgoza pine nuts (pinus gerardiana) are the longest and thinnest of all the pine nut species and have been a stable in Middle Eastern cooking for centuries.

The Asian Pine Nuts: (China and Korea)

Chinese pine nuts account for about 80% of the pine nuts in today’s world market. There are six Chinese species of pine nuts, including the pinus armandii the species found to cause the taste disturbance Pine Mouth Syndrome. The Chinese pine nut has a teardrop shape and a sharper and more pungent flavor. The Korean pine nut (pinus koraiensis) is shaped like a kernel of corn and has a thin shell.

Pine Nut History

The nutrient dense pine nut has been added to meats, fish, salads and vegetable dishes in various cultures around the globe. There is evidence that they have been an important food throughout Europe and Asia since the Paleolithic period and have been a winter food staple for Native Americans for thousands of years.

Native Americas, particularly those from the Great Basin region, included pine nuts as a traditional nutrition source because of their high (good) fat, carbohydrates and protein count. This would enable them to survive the winters with less meat in their diets. A typical family could gather enough pine nuts in the fall that could last about four months. To preserve the nuts, they were first roasted and then buried in the cold ground.

Today, the Indian people of the Great Basin still gather pine nuts as an affirmation of their cultural heritage. The nuts are still used in traditional foods using recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. Treaties negotiated by the tribes and lawmakers in Nevada guarantees the Native Americans’ right to continue to harvest pine nuts today.

Sources: wikipedia, http://nativeamericannetroots.net/diary/1048

Harvesting

Harvesting pine nuts is a labor-­‐intensive, time-­‐consuming process, which explains the high price tag for these delectable little gems. Harvesters use a long handled pole to beat the trees to get the cones to drop. A ladder will sometime make a nice addition to the process. The pinecones are then collected in burlap bags and brought back to the production facility. The pine cones must be dried and heated for up to 20 days before the seeds of the cone can be extracted. The cones are then smashed and the seeds are collected by hand.

Storing

Pine nuts have a high fat content, which can make the pine nuts turn rancid if not stored properly. Nuts can last in the refrigerator for 1-­2 months or in the freezer 3-­6 months. If left out in the open, make sure nuts are kept in a sealed container in a cool, dry place. Roasting pine nuts can help extend their shelf life.