Pine trees blanket covers huge stretches of the Northern Hemisphere, filling the air with fresh, resinous fragrance, but the nuts that are nestled within the pine cones have a definite following and their popularity in the kitchens is growing. Pine nuts blend well with a lot of different things; they don’t overpower, but they add a lot of character.
They’re a key ingredient in Italian pesto, of course. The Koreans make porridge out of pureed pine nuts and beef stock. In the Chinese city of Suzhou, pine nuts embedded in rock candy are a local specialty. Europe, Asia and North America have different species of pine, and most have edible nuts. Chinese nuts tend to be larger and many of them chefs argue that Italian ones have more flavor.
Native Americans of the Southwest eat roasted pine nuts as snacks, and so do those of the Lake Tahoe area. Pine nuts also are eaten as snacks, sort of like sunflower seeds, in much of the Western United States, where they are available roasted and still in their shells right after the autumn harvest at roadside stands and are called pinion nuts.
Pine Nuts are the edible seeds of certain pines, such as the pinon. The seeds vary in size – are found enclosed in the cone which take 3 to 4 years to mature. The seed are cylindrical in shape and can be up to 2,5 cm in length. One tree can bear about 25 cones, each producing about 100 seeds.The two main kinds are the triangular Chinese pine and the slender Italian Pine nuts.
The commercially important nut producing pine are the stone pine of southern Europe; the Swiss stone pine native to the Swiss Alps and eastward through Siberia to Mongolia; and the pinon pine of the arid regions of the southwestern United States.
Pine nut oil extracted from the edible seeds of several species of pine, has a delicate, nutty taste and is used as a flavoring agent. The oil’s rich flavor makes it a good choice for marinades, for use on vegetables, or in salad dressings. Since pine nut oil has a relatively low smoke point, it is therefore not generally used during cooking.
According to a Pueblo Indian folklore, a maiden eats a pine nut given to her by a God and becomes pregnant. The child she bears is the Aztec conqueror of Montezuma.
Health Benefits of Pine Nuts
Pine nuts are on par with walnuts, peanuts, and pecans for nutritional content and are a rich source of amino acids. The nuts supply Vitamin A, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin. And they are known to have the following health benefits:-
- Antioxidant protection
- Appetite suppression
- Dietary fiber
- Cardiovascular health (oleic acid in pine nuts helps to eliminate triglycerides).
Pine nuts are also believed to be an appetite suppressant. This is attributed to a hormone found in the nuts called cholecystokinin (CCK). Pine nuts also contain pinolenic acid, a polyunsaturated fat that encourages two hormones, which help to suppress hunger. This quality makes the protein-packed nuts a perfect addition to trail mix because they help with both energy and satiety.
Pine nut pesto is a popular, rich-tasting sauce, used as a pasta topper–a mouthwatering combo of nuts, cheese, garlic and basil.
Shelled and unshelled pine nuts can be kept on hand but should be stored in an airtight container. Nuts can be stored in the fridge for approximately one month. For longer storage, pine nuts can be placed in the freezer.
- 1/2 cup minced parsley
- 2 cups fresh minced basil, firmly packed
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. white pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tblsp. butter
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 lb. thin spaghetti
- 1/4 cup minced pine nuts
Combine basil, pine nuts, parsley and garlic in processor or blender and puree; add oil and butter gradually in a slow, steady stream until mixture is the consistency of mayonnaise. Add white pepper and salt to taste. Pour sauce over cooked spaghetti in a large shallow serving bowl and toss well. Serve immediately with Parmesan cheese. Finely chopped walnuts substitute for pine nuts. The sauce can be frozen.