The small, ivory-hued, elongated edible seeds obtained from pine trees are pine nuts. These seeds are obtained from pine cones, which measure roughly 1/2 inch in length. In their raw state, the pine seeds usually have a soft surface and they have a sweet, butter-like flavour. The pine seeds are roasted lightly with a view to bring out their flavour and also add some crunch to them.
Usually, the seeds are collected from four specific varieties of pine trees - the Colorado pinon (botanical name P. edulis), the Mexican pinon (botanical name Pinus cembroides), the Chinese nut pine (botanical name P. koraiensis) and the Italian stone pine (botanical name P. pinea). Pine trees take a very long time to produce these edible seeds.
Usually, it takes anything between 15 years and 25 years for a pine tree to produce seeds, while they are most productive when they are about 45 years to 75 years. Nearly the entire harvest of pine seeds in North America is from the wild - trees that have not been cultivated. In most cases, pine seeds are collected by hand, which makes them quite costly.
Over the centuries, people in North America, Europe and Asia have used the pine seeds in various cuisines. This is mainly because apart from their flavour, pine seeds contain rich amounts of protein as well as dietary fiber. Pine nuts are essential for a number of traditional recipes. The distinctive nutty and butter-like flavour of pine nuts can only be obtained by roasting them lightly.
Because of their unique flavour, roasted pine seeds are not only added to some types of salads, but also employed for making the well-known Italian pesto salad. Pine nuts are used as the main ingredient of the much loved Italian pignolia.
The oil extracted from pine nuts, called pine nut oil, has an extremely potent flavour and is commonly used to add essence to several vegetable dishes and salads. Pine nuts are available in most markets. Since pine nuts are quite expensive, it is advisable that you shop around for a while before making your purchase.
Most people in Europe use pine nuts harvested from the Italian stone pine (scientific name P. pinea), which is available abundantly. These nuts are relatively large, chubby and have an ivory hue.
These pine nuts are particularly popular in the countries in the region of the Mediterranean, especially Italy, where people use them in pizza, and pound them with sauces before using it in pasta dishes.
Apart from being used for culinary purposes, toasted pine nuts are also consumed out of hand. In Greece and Sicily, roadside stalls often sell toasted pine nuts in large cones made from paper. They are meant for people who love eating pine nuts directly out of hand.
In Asia, people collect edible pine nuts from a variety of pine trees. They are very popular in China, Korea and other countries, where people use it as an ingredient in various dishes. In North and South America, pine nuts are collected from the pinyon pine and, hence, are also known as pinyons referring to the trees from where they are harvested.
The nutritional worth of pine nuts differs, subject to the species from which they are collected. In general, pine nuts enclose high levels of protein, and are rich in dietary fiber and fat content. Nuts harvested from a number of pine trees also contain some added vitamins as well as minerals.
Apart from being edible and flavourful, pine nuts also possess several therapeutic properties. These nuts enclose several antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E and lutein, which serve as super-vitamins and protect the cells in our body from damages caused by free radicals.
At the same time, these nutrients also enhance eye sight. The free radicals are produced by the diet we take, stress as well as other factors. The nutrients in pine nuts help to neutralize the free radicals.
Among all edible nuts, pine nuts contain the maximum amount of proteins. Incidentally, pine nuts are the sole source of pinoleic acid, which aids in invigorating the hormones that serve as appetite suppressants.
Consuming a handful of these nuts provide us with sufficient pinoleic acid that can encourage the intestines to make hormones known as CCK. The CCK hormones send signals to our brain to make us feel filled, thereby helping us to abstain from eating anything for a prolonged period.
In this way, consumption of pine nuts decelerates the rate of digestion in the stomach and doesn't make us feel hungry. Pine nuts are very beneficial for people who are overweight and dieting to shed some additional flab.
In addition to proteins and pinoleic acid, pine nuts also contain the maximum amount of oleic acid among all edible nuts available. Being a mono-saturated fat, oleic acid facilitates the liver to get rid of all detrimental triglycerides from our body.
Moreover, pine nuts are also beneficial for the health of our heart, because they enclose mono-saturated fats that are also present in olive oil. Pine nuts assist in reducing LDL (low density lipoprotein) or "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream, thereby protecting the arteries from being harmed. As a result, they also prevent heart attacks.
Apart from improving blood circulation, consumption of pine nuts also helps to maintain the health of our heart. They enclose elevated amounts of vitamins E and K, in addition to essential minerals like iron, copper, and manganese. All these nutrients ensure that our cardiovascular system remains healthy.
Oil extracted from pine nuts is known as pine nut oil and it is well-known for its mild and nut-like flavour. People in southwest America prepare a special coffee called "Pinon" from the pine nuts. Pinon is basically a dark roasted coffee having a deep, nut-like flavour.
Pine nuts as well as the oil extracted from them are often used in vegetarian and fish recipes. They are also included in meat preparations in the form of a dietary fiber source.
In addition to dietary fiber, pine nuts are an excellent natural source of iron, which is essential for proper functioning of several bodily processes, counting circulation as well as nerve regulation. Copper contained by pine nuts helps the body to take in more iron from ingested foods.
Pine nuts are also rich in antioxidant content and, hence, consuming these nuts helps in protecting our body from free radical damage. As they contain elevated concentration of iron, pine nuts aid in augmenting the level of hemoglobin in our bloodstream. Magnesium in pine nuts helps to alleviate muscle spasms, tension as well as exhaustion.
Pine nuts enclose high levels of antioxidants, which slow down the aging process, as they are effective in counteracting as well as eliminating the harmful free radicals from our body. Presence of elevated levels of free radicals in the body not only increase aging signs, but they may also result in formation of carcinogenic cells.
Consuming foods that are rich in antioxidants, for instance, pine nuts, will lessen the chances of developing the above mentioned health issues. Pine nuts contain substantial amounts of copper, which also helps in preventing premature aging.
A micronutrient called lutein is found in pine nuts. Lutein is a potent antioxidant that is vital for preventing diseases related to the eyes like cataracts and macular degeneration. Pine nuts also enclose vitamin A as beta carotene, which is also useful for the health of our eyes.
While pine nuts offer us a number of health benefits, you should know that these nuts should also be used cautiously, for they may have some adverse effects. For instance, there have been numerous reports that consumption of pine nuts cause altered taste sensitivity. It may cause cacogeusia (bad taste) or pine mouth.
Such sensations usually occur some days after consuming the pine nuts and it may continue for some days together. Nevertheless, pine mouth occurs on its own and does not cause any other problem. This condition also goes away on its own without needing any medical treatment.
People who are extremely sensitive may even develop pine nut allergy. The symptoms of this allergic reaction may vary from hives (common skin itching) to a serious type of anaphylactic symptoms like breathing problems, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting.
Sometimes, taking different types of nuts and fruits in conjunction may result in cross-reactions, particularly when one consumes pine nuts with fruits and nuts belonging to the Anacardiaceae family like cashew nuts, mango, pistachio and others. Hence, it is advised that people who are known to be prone to allergic reactions to pine nuts should be careful while consuming them.
Pine nut harvesting involves collecting the cones manually and then heating the dried cones to make them crack open. After the pine nuts are taken out from the cones, their shells are removed. Since pine nuts contain an elevated concentration of oil, their shelf life decreases rapidly after shelling.
To prevent the pine nuts from becoming rotten, it is advisable that you either use them up quickly or store them in a refrigerator. In some parts of the world, people can buy unshelled pine nuts in their local markets. Usually, unshelled pine nuts cost less because not much labor is required to make them available to the consumers.