Why are pine nuts so delicious?

Pine nuts have a high oil content, which gives them an almost buttery texture. Compress a few on their own and you may be able to detect a slightly resinous pine flavor. Once mixed with other ingredients, its flavor is softer and sweeter. However delicate and delicious pine nuts are, they can have negative effects when eaten.

This condition, called “pine nut” or “pine nut syndrome”, means that simply eating pine nuts causes the rest of the foods you eat to taste metallic and bitter. Fortunately, this only lasts a few days and is thought to be caused by specific pine species found mainly in China. And while pine nut allergies are real, they're much less common than other nut allergies. Pine nuts are the most elegant of all nuts.

They are smaller, cuter and have a sweet, subtle flavor. It also turns out that they cost a small fortune. But we buy them anyway because pine nuts make it worthwhile when we add them to our kitchen, just think about all that summer pesto. The combination of nutrients found in pine nuts, including protein, fiber and healthy fats, helps increase feelings of satiety.

This, in turn, can help maintain a healthy weight. There are two popular varieties of pine nuts in North America, and those are the Jumbo Soft-Shelled Pinyon Nevada and the New Mexico Pine Nut. Pine nuts are not as common as other nuts, but demand continues to increase in the United States and Europe. To make matters worse, some varieties of pine nuts are covered with an outer layer that must be removed before processing or eating the pine nuts.

I've also used pine nuts instead of pecans in pancakes (they're especially good in cornmeal pancakes), and added them to a carrot cake batter. Through years of experimentation, chefs from the Aegean to Asia have discovered that pine nuts combine well with certain flavors. The type of omega-3 in pine nuts is ALA, which is considered essential, but the body has to convert it into the most useful forms, EPA and DHA. I start by adding pine nuts sparingly to my favorite recipes (they're so delicious you'll see that you often don't need much), and I only add more if I want them to really stand out on a plate.

This is partly because pine nuts (like most nuts) contain a lot of calories and protein in their small shells, and partly because (again, like most nuts), they aren't cheap. These effects could be due to healthy fats, phenolic compounds, or manganese in pine nuts. Probably the most famous of these is pesto, the Italian mixture of pine nuts, basil and olive oil, with perhaps a touch of walnut cheese such as Parmesan. And the pilafs themselves, such as basmati rice and pine nut pilaf for grilled Greek-style game hens on the right, are excellent fillings.

Roasting also tends to minimize the resinous aftertaste that fresh walnuts sometimes have, so I have become accustomed to always roasting pine nuts before using them. Regardless of where you buy pine nuts, you'll never really know how fresh they are (you'd have to get them out of the tree yourself to be safe), but you can keep them in their best condition at home by refrigerating them (up to several weeks) or freezing them (up to three months). Since pine nuts also go very well with saffron, I like to make a saffron rice pilaf, mixed with sweet raisins, spicy dried apricots, sautéed onions and pine nuts. Pine nuts are often added to other nuts such as pistachios or almonds and baked with a puff pastry honey syrup.

Laura Tabag
Laura Tabag

Lifelong reader. Friendly internet trailblazer. Devoted web expert. Passionate pop culture guru. Award-winning food junkie.

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