Facts and figures about pine nuts from A to Z
Pine nuts are used in cuisines all over the world, often in both sweet and savoury celebration dishes. They are also grown in every corner of the globe: Europe, Asia, the Americas, New Zealand and even the Himalayas! Considered a luxury item, European pine nuts command high prices. Thought to have been considered an aphrodisiac by the ancient Greeks and Romans, we have written evidence of the use of pine nuts in recipes in the late seventeenth century. Despite being high in calories, pine nuts are rich in important nutrients, fibres, protein, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Delicious simply toasted, pine nuts are most famously used to make Genoese basil pesto, but are also a vital ingredient of diverse dishes made with minced meat, pastry, spinach, custard and chestnut flour.
A to E
Asian. According to the variety, Asian pine nuts are either elongated or triangular in shape, with brownish tips. They are far less expensive than European varieties.
Bitter. Chinese pine nuts have a bitter aftertaste, unlike those from Pakistan, which are sweeter and oilier.
Castagnaccio. An Autumn treat of the peasant tradition, this cake is typical of certain north Italian regions where it is made from chestnut flour, pine nuts, sultanas and olive oil, enriched with rosemary and/or orange zest and/or fennel seeds.
Diet. Pine nuts are high in calories (600 Kcal per 100 g) but they do contain important substances, such as pinolenic acid which stimulates hunger suppressing hormones, albeit temporarily.
Edible seed. Even though they are associated with dried fruit, pine nuts are not fruits at all but the edible seeds of about twenty pine tree varieties. They are extracted from the pine cones.
F to J
Fibres. Rich in fibres as well as protein content, vitamins B12 and E, magnesium, calcium and a great deal of phosphorus.
Granny’s cake. In Italy, the so-called 'Granny’s cake' is filled with custard and topped with pine nuts.
Hushwee. A staple dish of Middle Eastern cuisine whose main ingredients are minced meat and toasted pine nuts, cooked in clarified butter and flavoured with cinnamon. This is also the filling used in one of the most famous recipes for kibbeh.
Ivory. This is the colour of European pine nuts, which are renowned for their high quality. They are evenly coloured and emanate the spicy resinous aroma of pine trees.
Jeopardous. Harvesting pine nuts used to be a very dangerous occupation: the harvesters had to climb the trees. They belonged to teams of workers, each one specialised in a particular activity: shaking the trees, gathering the pine nuts, loading and carrying them to their final destination.
K to O
Luxury. European pine nuts can now be considered a luxury product: they can cost as much as 100 Euro per kg.
Marlborough. This is the name of the region in New Zealand whose climate is similar to that of the Mediterranean. It is famous for its vineyards but also for its conifers, which are grown specifically for their pine nuts.
Neje. This is the name given to Himalayan pine nuts which grow at altitudes ranging from 1800 to 3350 metres, on a conifer species called 'chilgoza'. They are one of the most important 'cash crops' of the local population, owing to their high market price.
Old. The pine nut is an 'old' seed: it has to mature for three years in the pine cone before it can be harvested.
P to T
Pesto. Pine nuts are an essential ingredient of authentic Genoese pesto, made from fresh basil. The other ingredients of this pasta sauce are garlic, salt, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan and pecorino cheese.
Quality coffee. The “piñón” of New Mexico is a variety of coffee enriched with pine nuts which are added to the beans before roasting. This recipe was invented about twenty years ago by a company operating in this state, which has an abundance of conifers of the Pinus edulis species.
Rancid. To prevent pine nuts from becoming rancid, it is advisable to store them in the fridge – or at least in a cool dry place – for 3 or 4 months at the most.
Spinach. One of the best companions to pine nuts which enrich the flavour of this vegetable in many recipes and cuisines, including the Middle East Jewish, Italian and International.
Toasted. To enjoy pine nuts at their best it's preferable to toast them, ideally in the oven on baking paper, to ensure a homogeneous and golden toasted colour.
U to Z
Umbrella pine. The quintessential pine nut producing tree is the European domestic Pinus pinea, more commonly called the 'umbrella pine' owing to its wide convex shape.
Vienna City Library. This library treasures a hand-written recipe book dating back to 1696 which contains the most ancient recipes for strudel. In the past, strudel used to be made using pine nuts from the Austrian or Swiss stone pine, Pinus cembra, a typical mountain species growing at high altitudes.
Wild food. In the native Mapuche culture of Chile and Argentina, pine nuts were an important form of foraged food and were used to make flour for bread-making.
X-rated. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed pine nuts had aphrodisiac properties and recommended their consumption with honey and almonds before lovemaking to enhance the ensuing performance.
Young. They are rich in antioxidants., and their vitamins and lutein protect cells from the action of free radicals.
Zinc. Pine nuts are rich in zinc: one 34 gram portion contains as much as 1.4 mg of zinc.
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