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Pine nuts nutrition facts

Crunchy yet butter textured, pleasantly sweet and delicious pine nuts are small edible seeds of female cone in a pine tree. Pine kernels are, indeed, very good source of plant derived nutrients, essential minerals, vitamins and "heart friendly" mono-unsaturated fatty acids that help benefit in reducing cholesterol levels in the blood.

Botanically, pine trees belong to the family of Pinaceae, in the genus: Pinus. Some of the common names are pinon nuts, pignoli, cedar nuts, chilgoza, pinyon pinenuts...etc.

pine nuts, pinon nuts
Pine nut kernels.

Pine trees grow chiefly in the wild cold and taiga forests of the northern hemisphere, particularly of Siberia and Canada. They are huge, straight erect trees with large stem which may reach upto 75 feet in height with pyramidal or umbrella like dense foliage cover.

pine cones
Pine cones hanging down from the pine branch.
(Photo courtesy : Let ideas)

The "flowers" of pine tree subsequently develop into a cone. The female cones take about two–three years to mature after pollination. At maturity, the female-cones (ovulate or seed cones) may reach from as small as 3 cm cone to a very large cone reaching about 35 cm. Scales at the base and tip of the cone tends to be small and sterile, and therefore, bear no seeds. Once mature and dry, the cones naturally split open to release the seeds.

The two prominent pine species known for their large edible kernels include Pinus sibirica and Pinus koraiensis. Stone (western) pines have long slender kernels in comparison to oriental pines, in which the seeds are broad, large and have higher fat content.

Pine nuts feature tough dark-brown outer coat or shell. Inside, its edible kernel has cream white, delicate buttery flavor and sweet taste.

chilgoza pine nuts
Chilgoza pine nuts and kernels.

Chilgoza pine nut (Pinus gerardiana) is another distinct pine variety found in the western Himalayan forests of Pakistan, India (Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh), and Afghanistan. Chilgoza pines have similar in appearance as stone pines; featuring long slender, pointed kernels.

Health benefits of pine nuts

  • Pine nuts are one of the calorie-rich edible nuts. 100 g of dry-kernels provide 673 calories. Additionally, they comprise of numerous health promoting phyto-chemicals, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals.

  • Their high caloric content chiefly comes from fats. Indeed, the nuts are especially rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid (18:1 undifferentiated fat) that helps to lower LDL or "bad cholesterol" and increases HDL or "good-cholesterol" in the blood. Research studies suggest that Mediterranean diet which contain good amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants, helps to prevent coronary artery disease and strokes by favoring healthy blood lipid profile.

  • Pine or cedar nuts contain essential fatty acid (omega-6 fat), pinolenic acid. Recent research has shown its potential use in weight loss by curbing appetite. Pinolenic acid triggers the release of hunger-suppressant enzymes cholecystokinin and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) in the gut. In addition, pinolenic acid has thought to have LDL-lowering properties by enhancing hepatic LDL uptake.

  • Likewise in almonds, pines too are an excellent source of vitamin E; contain about 9.33 mg per 100 g (about 62% of RDA). Vitamin E is a powerful lipid soluble antioxidant, required for maintaining the integrity of cell membrane of mucus membranes and skin by protecting it from harmful oxygen-free radicals.

  • Furthermore, pines are one of gluten free tree nuts, and therefore, are a popular ingredient in the preparation of gluten-free food formulas. Such formula preparations can be a healthy alternative in people with wheat food allergy, and celiac disease.

  • Pine nuts are an excellent source of B-complex group of vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) and folates. These vitamins work as co-factors for enzymes in cellular substrate metabolism inside the human body.

  • Furthermore, pine nuts contain healthy amounts of essential minerals like manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium. At 8.802 mg per 100 g (about 383% of daily recommended intake), pines are one of the richest sources of manganese. Manganese is an all-important co-factor for antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. It is therefore, consumption of pines helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals.

Pine nut oil has a delicate flavor with sweet aroma, and is being employed in many traditional medicinal applications. The main chemical components in pine oil are borneol, bornyl acetate, a and ß-phellandrene, a-pinene and ß-pinene. Its emollient property helps to keep skin well protected from dryness. It has also been employed in cooking, and as “carrier or base oil” in traditional medicines in aromatherapy, in pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry.

Selection and storage

In the wild, the seeds that drop down on the ground are generally gathered and processed. In the markets, one may find shelled as well as unshelled pine nuts displayed for sale.

When you are buying whole unshelled nuts, look for those feature bright brown color, compact, uniform in size, feel heavy in hand and should produce good metallic sound when poured down from a height. They should be free from cracks, mold, and spots and of rancid smell.

Shelled and processed kernels are also put for sale in air-tight plastic bags in the stores. Always try to buy fresh nuts from authentic sources.

Unshelled nuts have long shelf life and can be stored for many months. Shelled kernels deteriorate soon if exposed to warm, humid conditions. Therefore, store shelled nuts in airtight jars and store inside the refrigerator.

Preparation and serving methods

Raw whole pinon nuts are generally split open at processing units using larger sheller machines. Smaller nut sheller equipment or hand held pliers usually are being used at domestic level.

Here are some serving tips:

pine nut cookie
Pine nut cookie.
Photo courtesy: Greencolander.
  • Siberian pines generally enjoyed as they are. Additionally, they can also eaten roasted, salted or sweetened.

  • They also used in granolas, biscuits, cookies, chocolates and crunchy energy bar preparations.

  • The nuts also used in salads; especially sprinkled over fruit/vegetable salads.

  • Pinon nuts are used in desserts, particularly sundaes and other ice cream/confectionary based recipes.

  • They feature frequently in meat, fish, and vegetable dishes.

  • Pine nut oil is used in salad dressing and in cooking.

Safety profile

There are several reported cases of altered taste perception (cacogeusia or pine mouth) following to pine nut consumption. It appears few days after eating the nuts and may persists for up to a week. However, Pine mouth is self-limited condition and resolves on its own without any sequel.

Pine nut allergy may occur in some sensitive individuals. The reaction symptoms may range from simple skin itching (hives) to severe form of anaphylactic manifestations, including breathing difficulty, pain abdomen, vomiting and diarrhea. Cross-reactions may also occur with some other nuts and fruits, especially of Anacardiaceae family members such as mango, cashew nuts, pistachio... etc. Persons with known allergic reactions to these nuts may therefore need to observe caution while eating them. (Medical disclaimer).

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Further reading/resources:

1. Pinenut.com

2. USDA National Nutrient database.

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