Pine nuts, also called piñón (Spanish: [piˈɲon]), pinoli (Italian: [piˈnɔːli]), or pignoli, are the edible seeds of pines (family Pinaceae, genus Pinus). About 20 species of pine produce seeds large enough to be worth harvesting; in other pines, the seeds are also edible, but are too small to be of notable value as a human food.
Pine nuts are prominently consumed in several cuisines worldwide, especially as part of Chinese cuisine, Italian cuisine, Japanese cuisine, Korean cuisine, Mongolian cuisine, New Mexican cuisine, Russian cuisine, and various Native American cuisines. This widespread geographical consumption makes it recognizable within the context of global cuisine.
Species and geographic spread
In Asia, two species in particular are widely harvested; Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis) in northeast Asia (the most important species in international trade) and chilgoza pine (Pinus gerardiana) in the western Himalaya. Four other species, Siberian pine (Pinus sibirica), Siberian dwarf pine (Pinus pumila), Chinese white pine (Pinus armandii) and lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana), are also used to a lesser extent. Russia is the largest producer of Pinus sibirica nuts in the world, followed by Mongolia, which produces over 10,000 tonnes of forest-grown nuts annually. The majority of harvest is exported to China. Afghanistan is an important source of pine nuts, behind China and Korea.
Pine nuts produced in Europe mostly come from the stone pine (Pinus pinea), which has been cultivated for its nuts for over 5,000 years. Pine nuts have been harvested from wild trees for far longer. The Swiss pine (Pinus cembra) is also used, to a very small extent.
In North America, the main species are three of the pinyon pines: Colorado pinyon (Pinus edulis), single-leaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla), and Mexican pinyon (Pinus cembroides). The other eight pinyon species are used to a small extent, as are gray pine (Pinus sabineana), Coulter pine (Pinus coulteri), Torrey pine (Pinus torreyana), sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana) and Parry pinyon (Pinus quadrifolia). Here, the nuts themselves are known by the Spanish name for the pinyon pine: piñón (plural: piñones).
In the United States, pine nuts are mainly harvested by Native American and Hispano communities, particularly in the Western United States and Southwestern United States, by the Uto-Aztecan Shoshone, Paiute, Navajo, Pueblo, Hopi, Washoe, and Hispanos of New Mexico. Certain treaties negotiated by tribes and laws in Nevada guarantee Native Americans' right to harvest pine nuts, and the state of New Mexico protects the use of the word piñon for use with pine nuts from certain species of indigenous New Mexican pines.
For those seeking to grow edible landscapes, these are the more commonly used species.
- Old World
- New World
- Pinus cembroides – Mexican pinyon
- Pinus culminicola – Potosi pinyon
- Pinus edulis – Two-needle piñon or Colorado pinyon (when grown in Colorado)
- Pinus johannis – Johann's pinyon (includes P. discolor – Border pinyon)
- Pinus monophylla – Single-leaf pinyon
- Pinus orizabensis – Orizaba pinyon
- Pinus quadrifolia – Parry pinyon
- Pinus remota – Texas pinyon or papershell pinyo
Pollination and seed development
The pine nut (seed) species will take a time that depends on the exact species (e.g. 36 months for a stone pine seed) to complete its maturity; to reach full maturity, the environmental conditions must be favorable for the tree and its cone.
For some American species, development begins in early spring with pollination. A tiny cone, about the size of a small marble, will form from mid-spring to the end of summer; the premature cone will then become and remain dormant (with a cessation of growth) until the following spring. The cone will then commence growth until it reaches maturity near the end of summer. The mature piñon pine cone is ready to harvest ten days before the green cone begins to open. A cone is harvested by placing it in a burlap bag and exposing it to a heat source such as the sun to begin the drying process. It takes about 20 days until the cone fully opens. Once it is fully open and dry, the seed can be easily extracted in various ways. The most common and practical extraction method used is the repeated striking of the burlap bag containing the cone(s) against a rough surface to cause the cone(s) to shatter, leaving just the job of separating by hand the seed from the residue within the bag.
Another option for harvesting is to wait until the cone opens on the tree (as it naturally will) and harvest the cone from the piñon pine, followed by the extracting process mentioned above. Fallen seed can also be gathered beneath the trees.
Ecology and status
Because pine nuts are an important food source for many animals, overharvesting of pine nuts threatens local ecosystems, an effect occurring during the early 21st century with increased culinary uses for pine nuts. In the United States, millions of hectares of productive pinyon pine woods have been destroyed due to conversion of lands, and in China and Russia, destructive harvesting techniques (such as breaking off whole branches to harvest the cones) and removal of trees for timber have led to losses in production capacity.
Elevation and pinecone production
The elevation of the pinyon pine is an important determinant of the quantity of pine cone production, and therefore, will largely determine the number of pine nuts the tree will yield.
American Pinyon pine cone production is most commonly found at an elevation between 1,800 and 2,600 m (6,000 and 8,500 ft), and ideally at 2,100 m (7,000 ft). This is due to higher temperatures at elevations lower than 1,800 m (6,000 ft) during the spring, which dry up humidity and moisture content (particularly snow packs) that provide for the tree throughout the spring and summer, causing little nourishment for pine cone maturity.
Although there are several other environmental factors that determine the conditions of the ecosystem (such as clouds and rain), without sufficient water, the trees tend to abort cones. High humidity encourages cone development. There are certain topographical areas found in lower elevations, such as shaded canyons, where the humidity remains constant throughout the spring and summer, allowing pine cones to fully mature and produce seed.
At elevations above 2,600 m (8,500 ft), the temperature substantially drops, drastically affecting the state of the dormant cone. During the winter, frequent dramatic changes in temperature, along with drying, gusty winds, make the cones susceptible to freeze-drying that damages them permanently; in this case, growth is stunted and the seeds deteriorate.
When first extracted from the pine cone, they are covered with a hard shell (seed coat), thin in some species, thick in others. The nutrition is stored in the embryo (sporophyte) in the centre. Although a nut in the culinary sense, in the botanical sense pine nuts are seeds; being a gymnosperm, they lack a carpel (fruit) outside.
The shell must be removed before the pine nut can be eaten. Unshelled pine nuts have a long shelf life if kept dry and refrigerated (−5 to 2 °C or 23 to 36 °F); shelled nuts (and unshelled nuts in warm conditions) deteriorate rapidly, becoming rancid within a few weeks or even days in warm humid conditions. Pine nuts are commercially available in shelled form, but due to poor storage, can have poor flavor and may be already rancid at the time of purchase. Consequently, pine nuts are often frozen to preserve their flavor.
European pine nuts may be distinguished from Asian ones by their greater length in comparison to girth; Asian pine nuts are stubbier, shaped somewhat like long kernels of corn. The American piñon nuts are known for their large size and ease of shelling. In the United States, P. edulis, the hard shell of New Mexico and Colorado, became a sought-after species due to the trading post system, and the Navajo people who used the nuts as a means of commerce. The Italian pine nut (P. pinea) was brought to the United States by immigrants, and became a favored treat along the East Coast in the early 1930s, when bumper crops of American pine nuts were readily available at low prices.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||2,815 kJ (673 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||3.7 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)|
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
When dried for eating, pine nuts are 2% water, 13% carbohydrates, 14% protein, and 68% fat (table). In a 100 gram reference amount, dried pine nuts supply 673 calories and are a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of numerous micronutrients, particularly manganese (419% DV), phosphorus (82% DV), magnesium (71% DV), zinc (67% DV), copper (65% DV), vitamin E (62% DV), vitamin K (51% DV), and the B vitamins, thiamin and niacin (29-35% DV), among others (table).
In Italian they are called pinoli (in the US they are often called pignoli, but in Italy pignolo is actually a word far more commonly used to describe a fussy, overly fastidious or extremely meticulous person) and are an essential component of Italian pesto sauce; the upsurge in the popularity of this sauce since the 1990s has increased the visibility of the nut in America, primarily on the West Coast. Torta della nonna (literally "granny's cake") is a generic Italian dish name that in most families indicates an old family recipe for any kind of cake but often is used for a tart or a pie filled with custard, topped with pine nuts and optionally dusted with icing sugar. Pignoli cookies, an Italian American specialty confection (in Italy these would be called biscotti ai pinoli), are made of almond flour formed into a dough similar to that of a macaroon and then topped with pine nuts.
In Catalonia, a sweet is made of small marzipan balls covered with pine nuts, painted with egg and lightly cooked, and those are called "Panellets". Pine nuts are also featured in the salade landaise of southwestern France. The Nevada, or Great Basin, pine nut has a sweet fruity flavor and is promoted for its large size, sweet flavor and ease of peeling. Pine nuts are also widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine, reflected in a diverse range of dishes such as kibbeh, sambusak, and fatayer, desserts such as baklava, and many others.
Throughout Europe and Middle East the pine nuts used are traditionally from Pinus pinea (stone pine).[dubious ] They are easily distinguished from the Asian pine nuts by their more slender shape and more homogeneous flesh. Because of the lower price, Asian pine nuts are also often used, especially in cheaper preparations. Pine nuts contain thiamine (vitamin B1) and protein.
Pine nut coffee, known as piñón (Spanish for pine nut), is a specialty found in the southwest United States, especially New Mexico, and is typically a dark roast coffee having a deep, nutty flavor; roasted and lightly salted pine nuts can often be found sold on the side of the road in cities across New Mexico to be used for this purpose, as well as a snack.
Some raw pine nuts can cause taste disturbances, lasting from a few days to a few weeks after consumption. A bitter, metallic, unpleasant taste is reported. There are no known lasting effects, with the Food and Drug Administration reporting that there are "no apparent adverse clinical side effects". Raw nuts from Pinus armandii, mainly in China, may be the cause of the problem. Metallic taste disturbance is typically reported 1–3 days after ingestion, being worse on day two and typically lasting up to two weeks. Cases are self-limited and resolve without treatment.
Pine nuts have long been a dietary staple in some Native American tribes. Today, though some tribes still use pine nuts in traditional cooking, others use the hard outer shell of the pine nut as a bead for decorative purposes in traditional regalia and jewelry. In the Great Basin area of the US, collecting pine nuts is a protected right through state law and treaty.
In the northern California regions, pine nuts are collected from the Grey Pine or Bull Pine. Tribes burn designs into the hard shell, reflecting the same design they use in baskets; however, they are often left blank, or burned to blacken. These are more often used in women's regalia and jewelry.
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- Charles, Dan (October 8, 2014). "Love Pine Nuts? Then Protect Pine Forests". NPR. Retrieved 2015-04-19.