Crunchy yet buttery textured, pleasantly sweet, and delicious pine nuts are small edible seeds (kernels) of the female cone on a pine tree. Pine kernels are, indeed, a splendid source of plant-derived nutrients, essential minerals, vitamins, and "heart-friendly" monounsaturated fatty acids that help health immensely by reducing bad cholesterol levels in the blood.
Botanically, pines 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 nut kernels.|
Pine trees are found mainly in the cold and taiga forests of the northern hemisphere, particularly in Siberia and Canada. They are huge, straight, and erect trees with a large stem that may reach up to 75 feet in height and pyramidal or umbrella-like canopy of dense foliage cover.
The "flowers" subsequently develop into a cone. The female cones take about two-three years to mature after pollination. At maturity, they (ovulate or seed cones) may reach from as small as 3 cm long to a very large size, reaching up to 35 cm. Cone scales near the base and tip tend to be small and sterile, and therefore, bear no seeds. Once mature and dry, the cone naturally split open to release the edible pine kernel.
The two prominent pine species known for their large edible kernels include Pinus sibirica and Pinus koraiensis. Western (stone) pines have long slender kernels in comparison to the Oriental pines, in which the seeds are broad, large, and possess higher fat content.
|Pine cones hanging on a pine branch. (Photo courtesy: Let ideas)||Chilgoza pine nuts and kernels.|
Pine nuts feature tough dark-brown outer coat (shell). Inside, the edible kernel is cream-white, has a delicate buttery flavor, and pleasantly sweet in taste.
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 a similar appearance to stone pines; featuring long slender, pointed kernels.
Pine nuts are one of the calorie-rich edible nuts. 100 g of dry kernels provide 673 calories. Additionally, they comprise numerous health-promoting phytochemicals, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals.
Their high caloric content chiefly comes from fats. Indeed, the nuts are especially rich in monounsaturated 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 the Mediterranean diet which contains useful amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, and antioxidants, helps to prevent coronary artery disease and strokes by favoring a healthy blood lipid profile.
Pine or cedar nuts contain essential fatty acid (the 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. Also, 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; composing 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 the cell membrane of mucosa and skin by protecting it from harmful free oxygen radicals.
Furthermore, pines are one of the 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 the 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 the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Therefore, consumption of pine kernels helps the human body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals.
Pine nut oil has a delicate flavor with a sweet aroma and is being employed in many traditional medicinal remedies. The main chemical components in pine oil are borneol, bornyl acetate, α and ß-phellandrene, α-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 and aromatherapy, in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry.
|Principle||Nutrient Value||% of RDA|
|Total Fat||68.37 g||228%|
|Dietary Fiber||3.7 g||10%|
|Pantothenic acid||0.313 mg||6%|
|Vitamin A||29 IU||1%|
|Vitamin C||0.8 mg||1%|
|Vitamin E||9.33 mg||62%|
In the wild, the seeds that fell 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 that feature bright brown color, compact, uniform in size, feel heavy in hand, and should elicit a good metallic sound when poured down from a height. They should be free from cracks, mold, and spots and rancidity.
Shelled and processed kernels are also put for sale in air-tight plastic bags in the stores. Always buy fresh pine kernels from authentic sources.
Unshelled nuts have a long shelf life and can be stored for many months. Shelled kernels deteriorate soon if exposed to light, heat, and humid environments. Therefore, store shelled nuts in airtight jars and keep them in the refrigerator.
Raw whole pinon nuts are generally split open at processing units using larger sheller machines. Smaller nut sheller equipment or handheld pliers usually are being used at a domestic level.
Here are some serving tips:
|Pine nut cookie. Courtesy: Greencolander.|
Siberian pines generally enjoyed as they are. Additionally, they can also be 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 frequently feature in meat, fish (halibut with a pine nut crust), and vegetable dishes.
Pine nut oil is used in salad dressing and cooking.
There are several reported cases of altered taste perception (cacogeusia or pine mouth) following pine nut consumption. It appears few days after eating the nuts and may persist for up to a week. However, the Pine mouth is a 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 and Recommendations:
Pine nuts technical information-International nut and dried fruit Council. pdf
NSW Food Authority. pdf