It’s amazing that for a little nut that has been eaten for millennia, it took the popularity of an imported green sauce from Europe, pesto, to make many of us aware of them.
Pine nuts have been eaten all over Europe and Asia since the Stone Age. The Greeks and Romans thought them a male aphrodisiac, and they were found in abundance in the ruins of Pompeii. Pine nuts and corn are put together in Northern Chinese stir-fries, or used to bake cookies in Spain and Italy as well as being pounded with basil into the famous Genovese pesto. They are frequently an ingredient in the toothsome sweets and savories of the cuisines of the Middle East too. Closer to home, in the Southwest, pine nuts were and still are, a widely harvested staple food of local Native American tribes and the Hispano descendants of the first Spanish settlers. There they are ground into flour, or cooked with beans or simply eaten salted as snacks.
Pine nuts are generally expensive to buy, and with good reason. They only grow on mature pine trees 25 years old or more, and once the trees do fruit, the nuts are extremely labor intensive to harvest. A quick glance at the architecture of the pine cone explains why. And yet despite this, we have gone to the trouble of harvesting them for centuries. What gives? Aside from tasting good, they are nutrition powerhouses. Pine nuts are rich in healthy fats, dietary fiber, minerals like magnesium and iron, and in vitamin B6.
Pine nuts come from many different varieties of pine tree and all taste mildly sweet, nutty, and rich. They are generally sold shelled, and since pine nuts contain so much fat, they can quickly go rancid if kept too warm so store them in an airtight container in your fridge or freezer to keep them fresh. When buying them, for the same reason only buy from stores with high foot traffic and high product turnover, so you’re sure the pine nuts haven’t been sitting on a warm shelf for too long. The larger pine nuts that come from the Stone pines of Europe are the best quality and the most expensive. Those harvested in China and Korea come from a different tree and tend to be smaller and cheaper. Either will work for the recipes on our site
At Cook for your LIFE we like to keep pine nuts on hand to add lightly toasted to salads and vegetarian dishes for a quick high calorie nutrition boost, but for those of you who are less confident about using these pricey little gems, you can find pine nuts in a slew of recipes from traditional basil based pesto to pastas and easy veggie sides like Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts. Just search pesto and you’ll see how often we use them in one way or another. Enjoy!