Oh, pine nuts! We do love you so! Pine nuts bring crunch to our favorite salads and make our batches of summer pesto even more irresistible. At least until we look at the shopping receipt. Or wind up with a case of pine mouth. Wait, why do we love pine nuts, again?
Pine nuts really are harvested from the pine cones of evergreen trees, though the nuts of most backyard varieties are too small to be worth anyone's while. The seeds grow under the scales on the pine cone and take three whole years to reach maturity. Cones with mature nuts are harvested, dried, and then winnowed to remove the nuts. This time-consuming and labor-intensive process at least accounts for their high ticket price once they reach bulk bins and store shelves.
Pine nuts are very high in oil, giving them an almost buttery texture. Crunch a few on their own and you might be able to detect a slightly resinous pine-like flavor. Once mixed with other ingredients, their flavor is more mild and sweet.
This is an ambidextrous nut, equally at home in savory dishes and in sweet preparations. Pine nuts are a classic ingredient in pesto. Also try them scattered over salads, tossed with pasta and pilafs, or folded into wilted greens for a simple side dish. On the sweet front, pine nuts can be ground into cookies, used in biscotti, or added to cakes.
Pine nuts can be eaten as they are, but a little toasting will bring out their flavor. Keep a close eye on them as they toast: since they are so small and high in oil, they can easily scorch and burn. Their high oil content also causes them to go rancid very quickly. If possible, smell your pine nuts before buying them and then store them in the fridge or freezer in a tightly sealed container.
And sadly, pine mouth is no joke. This bizarre affliction, caused by eaten certain batches of pine nuts, makes everything you eat taste bitter or soapy for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The exact cause isn't known and there's no way to detect if you have a bad batch. It's the luck of the draw, unfortunately.
Do you love pine nuts? What's your favorite way to use them?
Try These Recipes with Pine Nuts!
• How to Make Perfect Pesto Every Time
• Pasta with Butternut Squash, Sage, and Pine Nuts
• Couscous with Raisins, Pine Nuts, and Capers
• Spaghetti Squash with Ricotta, Sage, and Pine Nuts
• Couscous with Sour Cherries and Pine Nuts
• Garlic Greens with Pine Nuts and an Egg
(Image: Emma Christensen)