Creamy white pine nuts are actually the edible seeds of pine trees. They’re not only a key ingredient in Italian cooking, but also are featured in other cuisines from around the world, including the Southwestern U.S. These kernel-shaped little seeds are a good source of protein and are also rich in manganese, an essential trace mineral vital for metabolism and bone health.
Their increasing popularity has been accompanied by reports of a temporary taste disorder known as pine mouth. Though little is known about the cause, one theory is that due to increased demand for the pine nut, China — the world’s main supplier — may have introduced some nuts from ornamental pine trees not usually classified as edible into the food supply. The condition occurs after eating pine nuts and consists of a metallic, bitter taste in the mouth which flares up when eating any other foods. It’s a short-lived syndrome and doesn’t affect everyone who eats the same batch of nuts. The FDA plans on investigating the mystery further. Reports state that the offending pine nuts are smaller in size than the typical variety.
At the market, you’ll always find pine nuts sold shelled and in their raw state. As they can turn rancid very quickly, be sure to buy them in shops that have a quick turnover rate. To keep them fresh, store pine nuts in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one month, or in the freezer for up to three months. Though you can eat pine nuts raw, toasting them really brings out their nutty flavor. Either place them in a 350 degree oven or toast them in a skillet on the stovetop until golden brown and keep a close eye on them, as they can burn quickly.
Pine nuts are great in savory stuffings and pilafs, and also work well in desserts, like the classic Italian pinoli cookies. You can make traditional Italian pesto by blending pine nuts, fresh basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil until they form a rough paste. But there’s so much more you can do with these tasty small seeds; branch out with some different pine nut recipes, like these.
Pine Nut, Currant and Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmades)
From Fine Cooking
Pine nuts add crunch to these lemony, currant-studded stuffed grape leaves.
Basil Leaves Stuffed with Chèvre and Pine Nuts
From Food & Wine
For a less-complex hors d’oeuvre that’s still full of flavor, make these easy appetizers.
Farro and Pine Nut Tabbouleh
This inventive, tabbouleh-inspired dish has added protein, thanks to chickpeas; jalapeños provide a hint of heat.
Dungeness Crab and Pine Nut Lasagne
Here’s a truly special dish that’s fit for company.
Sea Bass with Saffron, Sherry and Pine Nuts
Try this unique recipe if you’re looking for a new way to prepare fish fillets; alternatively, you can use the same sauce with chicken breasts.
Honey and Pine Nut Tart
From Martha Stewart
Feel free to use whatever type of honey you have on hand when making this unique tart.