What are pine nuts?
Firstly, they are not nuts at all. They are the sweet, buttery-tasting seeds found in the cones of around 18 species of pine tree. They grow in Asia, Europe and North America.
Most pine nuts take around 18 months to form, but some take up to three years. Generally, the bud forms in the spring, growing into a cone that becomes dormant over the next winter before reaching maturity the following summer.
They are difficult the harvest. Usually, they are ready around ten days before the green pine cone opens. The cones are picked and dried in the sun for 20 days before being broken open so that the nuts can be separated. The nuts themselves are also covered with a shell that must also be removed before they are ready to eat.
Asian pine nuts are generally longer, thinner and higher in oil than European or North American varieties.
They are often also pressed to make oil too, which has a delicate flavour and sweet aroma.
Pine nuts are a rich source of protein, making them ideal for a vegan or vegetarian diet.
As well as ‘heart friendly’ fats that help reduce blood cholesterol levels, they also contain magnesium, vitamin E, vitamin K and manganese. These are all important in promoting a healthy heart. Fatty acids also cause the release of an appetite suppressing hormone, so they are excellent additions to a weight loss diet. You’ll feel fuller for longer and could reduce your food intake.
Pine nuts contain high levels of antioxidants including vitamins A, B, C, D and E. These protect the skin and other organs from harmful free radicals, helping resistance against infections and slowing the ageing process.
But just a word of warning, eating pine nuts can cause everything else you eat to have a metallic, bitter taste. This is thanks to a condition known as pine nut mouth! It usually disappears after a couple of days and is thought to be attributable to one particular species – Pinus armandii from China.
Pine nuts can be eaten raw, but are delicious roasted as it brings out their flavour and adds extra crunch. They are used in many savoury dishes, especially vegetarian ones, and are particularly associated with the Mediterranean, Asian and Italian cuisine. They are the main ingredient in pesto and feature in many pasta dishes.
Pine nuts are also used in granolas, biscuits, cookies, chocolates and crunchy energy bars. They are delicious sprinkled over fruit or vegetable salads, sundaes or ice cream, and pine nut oil can be used in salad dressing and cooking.
The high oil content of pine nuts means they become rancid easily so it’s always best to store them in the fridge.
Energy ball recipes including pine nuts: