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|Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes (1,700 words)|
Written By: Faye C.
If you’ve ever made pesto before, chances are you’re familiar with pine nuts. In this article, we’ll be answering all your burning questions about this clever little nut that tastes so delicious in all your favorite sauces and dips:
- Are pine nuts healthy?
- Can you be allergic to pine nuts?
- What are the health benefits of pine nuts?
We’ll also go over some of the cautions you should consider surrounding pine nuts (especially if you’re prone to nut allergies).
Pine Nuts: The Basics
One of the most expensive types of nuts (really, pine nuts are a type of seed, but more on that later), pine nuts have a buttery flavor that makes them great for creamy sauces and dips. But pine nuts are also healthy. They are a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids and a good source of iron as well.
We’ll dive into the other key benefits of pine nuts up ahead. For now, let’s take a look at the basic nutrition numbers for pine nuts.
Pine Nut Nutrition Facts
These are the nutrition facts for approximately 100 grams of pine nuts.
Nutrition facts per 100 grams of dried pine nuts
Total fat: 68 g
Saturated fat: 4.9 g
Cholesterol: 0 g
Sodium: 2m g
Total carbs: 13.08 g
Dietary fiber: 3.7 g
Sugar: 3.6 g
Protein: 14 g
Calcium: 16 mg
Iron: 5.53 mg
Pine Nut Background Information
Pine nuts are also known as pignoli or piñon. They come from pine trees (who knew!), but not all pine trees. There are only about 20 pine tree species that produce the cones that can produce pine nuts.
And that leads us to our next point: Pine nuts aren’t actually nuts! They’re technically seeds, which makes sense as they come from cones. Most of the pine tree species that produce pine nuts (seeds) grow in Italy, Russia, the United States, and China.
One of the most significant things you've probably already noticed about pine nuts is how expensive they are. While other nuts like almonds and cashews certainly aren’t cheap, for a pretty small bag of pine nuts, you really have to shell out.
Why? Pine nuts tend to be more expensive because they’re difficult to obtain. Poor weather conditions can make them hard to harvest well, and this, in turn, causes the pine nuts that do make it to market to be especially expensive. Furthermore, these nuts cannot be stored for long. Unlike other nuts, pine nuts have an extra high amount of oil in them, which causes them to go rancid quite quickly.
Tip: If you do need pine nuts for a pesto recipe, you can actually swap them for the less-expensive walnut. While walnut pesto may not be quite as buttery-nutty tasty as pesto made with real pine nuts, it still works!
Health Benefits of Pine Nuts
Benefit #1: Improves cardiovascular health
Monounsaturated fats are in rich abundance in pine nuts. In fact, health experts recommend that most of the fats you consume be monounsaturated as opposed to polyunsaturated. The difference between the two is that monounsaturated fats have just one unsaturated carbon bond, and polyunsaturated fats have at least more than one. The latter are not unhealthy, but they are less ideal than monounsaturated fats, which help reduce bad cholesterol and improve heart health.
Benefit #2: Improves eye health
Vitamin A, a type of beta-carotene, is found in pine nuts. This vitamin is essential for good vision as it improves protection on the cornea (the surface of the eye).
In addition, it’s important to note that like many other types of nuts, pine nuts are rich in antioxidants. One of the most important antioxidants found in pine nuts is called lutein. Common diseases of the eye are improved with help from lutein and vitamin A. For example, both have been known to help prevent macular degeneration, which can lead to complete blindness. These nutrients also help prevent cataracts.
Benefit #3: Helpful for weight loss
As with many nuts, pine nuts are helpful for weight loss. Just remember that they are higher in carbs than many other nuts, so eat them in moderation if you're dieting.
One of the reasons that pine nuts are good for dieters is that they contain pinolenic acid, a known appetite suppressant. As a result, if you're looking for healthy snacks that won't endlessly keep you coming back for more, pine nuts could be just the thing.
Benefit #4: Excellent source of iron
In just one ounce of pine nuts, you’ll find 3 mg of iron, which is a considerable amount. For vegetarians and vegans who aren’t eating meat or meat products, this means pine nuts can be a great replacement iron source.
Why is iron so important? Humans need iron in order to retain energy. It’s especially essential for hemoglobin, which is found in the blood and responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body.
Pine Nut Recipes
Interested in checking out what else you can do with pine nuts besides just making pesto? While pesto certainly tastes best when made with a selection of fresh, buttery-tasting pine nuts, there are definitely other things this magic nut can do in the kitchen as well. Take a look:
- Vegetable Dishes
- Side Dishes
- Italian-Inspired Dishes
Pine Nut Considerations
- Selection: Pine nuts from the store should be fresh and evenly colored. Of course, pine nuts come from pine trees, so they can technically be gathered from pine trees as well. However, it is not advised that you harvest your own pine nuts unless you know exactly what you are doing. Consuming any wild foods without experience and knowledge about what safe harvesting practices are is dangerous.
- Purchase: Pine nuts can become inedible rather quickly (unfortunately, that delicious buttery flavor means that these are nuts that are super high in oil). To avoid your pine nuts going rancid, only buy what you’re going to consume in a relatively short amount of time (a few days). Additionally, always read the expiration date to make sure you’re purchasing nuts that are fresh.
- Storage: Pine nuts can be stored in airtight containers or tightly wrapped in plastic. It’s best to keep them cool in the refrigerator if you plan on eating them soon. They can last up to three months there. If you’re not going to be eating all your pine nuts in the next few weeks or months, you can extend the life of them by putting them in the freezer. Pine nuts store well in the freezer for up to nine months.
Toasting: Toasted pine nuts taste delicious when added to salads and other dishes. There are several different ways to toast these nuts, but the best way is to toast them on the stove, and the entire process shouldn’t take more than five minutes. This way of toasting is ideal because you can keep an eye on them to ensure they toast evenly and don’t burn. To toast pine nuts on the stove:
- Get out your skillet and toss your pine nuts with a few dashes of salt and some oil (canola oil works well). Don’t add too much oil because the natural oil from the pine nuts themselves will do much of the work.
- Turn your skillet to medium heat. Stay close to the stove with your turner, flipping and stirring your pine nuts often, as needed. Try to get all sides of each nut toasted for approximately one or two minutes.
Pine Nut Consumption Cautions
Pine nuts can be an excellent choice for many recipes or to eat alone. Still, there are some precautions you should take as well.
Caution #1: Allergies
Some people have been known to be allergic to pine nuts. This allergy is referred to as “Pine Tree Allergy,” however, because the same individuals cannot be around pine trees in general, in addition to not being able to consume or be around actual pine nuts.
Although pine nuts are technically seeds, an allergy to pine nuts (pine trees) has been linked to other nut allergies as well. With this in mind, anyone who is allergic to specific nuts (or all nuts) should steer clear of pine nuts or at least proceed with caution.
Caution #2: High Carbohydrates
While you may love snacking on a handful of pine nuts, if you’re cutting carbs, these nuts may not be for you. That’s because they have more carbs than many other types of nuts. Still, if you’re making pesto and need these nuts for your recipe or you just love to snack on them occasionally, keep in mind that in moderation, pine nuts can still work for low-carb diets like the ketogenic diet.
Caution #3: “Pine Mouth”
Formally called metallogeusia, “pine mouth” is a metallic taste that can end up in your mouth after eating pine nuts or pine nut oil. Although not known to be harmful (the taste lingers a bit but should go away in a few weeks or days), this can certainly be an annoyance linked to pignolias.
One note about this odd phenomenon: It’s thought that getting “pine mouth” may be caused by consuming pine nuts that come from certain Chinese species of pine nuts. Again, the condition is harmless, but if you can avoid pine nuts sourced from China, you may have a better chance of avoiding it!
For additional information on other nuts, our guide to the healthiest nuts you can eat!
Author: Faye C.
|Faye is a guest contributor for SuperFat who writers professionally in the health and nutrition space.|
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