Pine Nuts, Fresh and Ready to do Battle

Growing up, conversation at my house was nearly always accompanied by the sound of nuts being cracked by hand or seed shells being broken against the teeth. I was to later learn that seeds and nuts destined to be eaten while conversing are called passatempi in Italian or ajeel in Farsi. Evenings were enlivened as everyone showed off their dexterity cracking the perfect whole nut by hand, or as nimble movements of teeth and tongue freed a tiny sunflower seed from it’s recalcitrant shell.

The most challenging of these passatempi were pine nuts, which we called Indian nuts. The first time I saw a bin of shelled pine nuts I was amazed. All my childhood we always had the small oval seeds in the shell. And they were hard.  Managing to crack open the shell and fish out the slightly resinous oval pine nut was a feat. So imagine my surprise when Good Food Executive Producer Harriet Ells walked into the studio today bearing a small bag of fresh crop pine nuts in the shell. The shells are so easy to open it’s almost cheating. Harriet found them at a roadside stand on Highway 126 by Santa Paula. The bag says Francisco’s Fruits in Fillmore. I don’t see the pine nuts on their website but perhaps a friendly call will convince them to send you a bag. Happy cracking!

  • Jane

    We ate some recently in Italy, where they were a little different than here. They were a little larger, and had less of a resin flavor.
    I have heard that a lot of pine nuts in the US actually come from China, is this true?

  • The longest pine nuts I've seen were in Italy and Spain. But these from California are pretty darn long too. The fresher the nut the less resinous the taste. And yes, you've heard correctly that lots of pine nuts now sold in the US are from China. China seems to be harvesting them from varieties of pines that aren't really great meant to yield edible nuts. They tend to be very stubby but the worst part is that some of them are known to create "pine nut mouth" PNM is a temporary condition that makes everything taste metallic for about a week to 10 days. I suggest buying California, New Mexico or European pine nuts. That pretty much leaves out Trader Joe's unless they look very long. Then they should be ok.

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  • greg

    I bought pine nuts at Trader Joe's. I ate most of the bag in salads with no ill effects. However, twice I popped a handful into my mouth before bedtime. The 2nd time was lead to two WEEKS of my taste buds telling me everything was bitter and metallic. A horrible experience. the only way i figured it out was finding other people's comments on the internet. Googled "metallic and bitter taste" and up popped a very long story about a person eating pine nuts and 2 days later the bitterness occured. Same for me. I tossed the nuts in the trash. Later I found a 2nd bag in the drawer and before tossing those it the trash I saw on the bag printed clearly, "may cause bitterness" or something like that. Here is my complaint with Trader Joe's. If they did more research, they would probably find that pine nuts are not the problem. Most likely it is the source: that is, chemicals used (China) or substituting inedible pine nuts for edible. If i recall on the package it said the nuts come from Russia, Vietnam and someother place. Trader Joe's should get their pine nuts from a reputable source!!!!

    By the way, it took several weeks before all the bitterness went away!!!