The pine nut is a wonderful little thing. It is also ridiculously expensive in comparison to other nuts, not without good reason though.
by Lucille Pope on April 11, 2016
Whilst scoffing our Greekish Lamb Burgers recently, we found ourselves musing over the cost of pine nuts, having not bought them for a while. The volume of product in the package we had purchased seemed a tad on the skimpy side, so we thought we would find out why the cost of this tasty little nut makes your eyes water!
Maybe suprisingly, the pine nut is not actually a nut, instead it is a seed (so is the coconut). This means that the majority of nut allergy sufferers can eat pine nuts with no ill effects1.
Pine nuts are actually the edible kernels extracted from the seed of pine tree. The seeds are thick-shelled and grow inside pine cones that closely resemble the cones you often see from the more common species of pines, like those grown for timber.
With all of this armour protecting this pseudo-nutty delight, it is not at all surprising that the harvesting, extraction and preparation of the kernels has to be done by hand. Pine nuts are ready to harvest about 10 days before the green cone begins to open. The cones are dried in a cloth bag in the sun for around 20 days, to accelerate drying and opening. They are then smashed to release the seeds and the useful bits are separated by hand from the chaotic aftermath.
This is a very time consuming process, which justifiably (in my opinion) contributes to the high cost of pine nuts.
In other news…
There is more to the pine nut than just a price sticker of course.
They are highly nutritious and packed to the skins with all of the good kinds of fats that are now considered to be important in a healthy diet. You will find plenty of health food sites that will proclaim the pine nut to be a ‘superfood’ – make of that what you will but they certainly seem to be good for you. Pine nuts contain linoleic acid and pinolenic acid which are both the subject of medical research as they are thought to help with regulating blood pressure and the prevention/treatment of stomach ulcers. They are also very rich in protein (human metabolism needs protein!).
Despite the fact that pretty much every pine nut you will find in supermarkets in most parts of the world looks the same, there are actually several different species. The ubiquitous supermarket variety are Chinese pine nuts (Pinus koraiensis). They are usually a teardrop shape and are sourced over a wide area including north-east China, south-east Russia, the Korean peninsular and Japan. The packet will usually state that the contents are the product of more than one country.
At the end of the day, whatever species of pine nuts you happen to lay your hands on, they are wonderful little things. They make all sorts of dishes more interesting with a mild flavour that compliments so many others without being overpowering, creamy when raw or delightfully nutty when lightly toasted.