Pine Nuts


Pine nuts are a very interesting little nut, that actually do grow on pine trees. They’re also known as pignolias, and are common in Italian cuisine, especially for being a major player in basil pesto.

Oddly enough, pine nuts are also common in Mexican and Southwestern cuisines, which is how I first heard about them. And this is only because the piñon pine from which these nuts are harvested, are common in parts of Mexico as well as the Southwestern part of the United States. And, these pines grow in Italy, too, which explains everything. It’s all about what grows locally, isn’t it?!!

I used to live in Utah many years ago, and there’s a variety of piñon pine that grows in the mountains there, as well as in Colorado, that produces pine nuts. If you’re ever in that part of the country, take advantage of the lower prices for their freshly picked pine nuts. When they’re that fresh, they smell of pine. It’s fabulously stimulating to eat the fresh piney pine nuts.

Lots of people use pine nuts as is, but I like to toast mine. In fact, I use toasted nuts when I make pesto, although I have the impression that this is looked down upon by the Italians. I just prefer the flavor that toasting provides; it enhances the nut flavor. This is true with all nut varieties. If you leave them untoasted when adding them to pestos, they’re simply a thickener, and not an addition to the overall flavor profile. It’s a personal preference.

I love to use toasted pine nuts on top of salads and pastas. If you’ve never toasted pine nuts before, it’s extremely easy. It doesn’t take any time at all, which is why you have to be vigilant during the process.

Here’s what you do:

Place a single layer of pine nuts in a skillet.

Heat the skillet to medium-high heat. The skillet must be hot, but you don’t want the nuts to burn. You know your stove best. Adjust the heat accordingly. I’m using a skillet that takes a while to pre-heat. So there will be a little time, maybe about 4 minutes, before I can smell some toasting happening.

Alternatively, pre-heat your skillet and then add the nuts. It makes no difference in the long run.

As soon as you smell the toasting, stand at your stove and do not leave. Begin moving the pine nuts around. You can flip them, using the skillet, if you’re good at that. If not, just move the skillet around vigorously, or use a tool of some kind to get the nuts moving around on all sides. You don’t just want one side of the nuts to toast.

As soon as the nuts are toasted to your satisfaction, remove them to a plate to cool. And don’t touch them until you are sure they are cooled off. Hot nuts burn.

After they’re toasted and cooled, store them in a sealable bag in the refrigerator. They will keep for quite a while. But always smell the nuts before using. Because of the oily content of pine nuts, they can become rancid quite quickly.


39 thoughts on “Pine Nuts

  1. I had no idea there were pine nuts in Mexico, or that they grew in the US! Here in Europe you can get cheap(ish) pine nuts from China, or more expensive ones (but better) from Spain or Italy . They are also widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine, where they are often browned in butter! Thanks for the tips!

    • Darya, they’re very common in some Chinese cuisines as well – I wasn’t trying to do a whole food history thing with them. And I know you enjoy that kind of thing! But you reminded me that I’ve actually had hummus topped with browned butter and pine nuts that was incredible. I was a little hesitant, being more familiar with olive oil, but it was wonderful. Must look into finding a recipe!

  2. I’ve had a bad experience with imported pine nuts from China. They leave a bitter metalic taste in your mouth that lasts for weeks. Always buy fresh local or imported European pine nuts!

  3. I love toasted pine nuts too and use them often. Not for pesto alla genovese because their flavor is too strong for that. I don’t have the patience to toast them in a skillet, so I use the oven instead. This toasts them very evenly.

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen Chinese pine nuts, but then again the last time I was in an Asian supermarket I wasn’t really looking. Given the regular agricultural scandals that occur there I don’t think I’d be inclined to eat them. I’d be happy to give American ones a try if I ever saw them–very evocative that really fresh ones one still smell of pine. Until then, I guess I’ll stick with the Italian and Spanish ones. Ken

    • Someone also commented on the inferior quality of Chinese pine nuts. Really good to know! I used to live in Park City, Utah, and my mother always stopped at little stands along mountain roads and bought pine nuts. Those were the real piney ones. Just like you were eating and smelling a pine bough. Lovely.

  5. I love pine nuts. We use them in a variety of things, i.e. salads, pesto, rice pilaf, certain Mexican dishes, etc. Have you ever tried the almond paste, pine nut (Pignoli) cookies? They are so simple to make and soooooo good.
    As for storage, I have found freezing them helps prolong their shelf life and I have never noticed any off tastes from freezing them.
    Once again, love the photos. :)

  6. I don’t know why but I have always associated pine nuts with Italian cuisine. I always have a container in my kitchen and love to toast them too. They also make a fantastic addition to those little Italian meringue biscuits ‘brutti m buoni’ aka ‘ugly but good’. Now I’m going to google an image of a pine nut tree, I’ve never seen one.

    • I’m not sure I know what the actual pine tree looks like, I just remember them being sold along Provo Canyon in Utah, at little turnouts on the road. Those were the really piney ones. So fresh!

  7. Don’t ask me why… because I just don’t know… but I’ve never toasted pine nuts. I’ve toasted every other kind of nut, so I’m sitting here trying to figure out why I wouldn’t have ever tried toasting them. Go figure. I’m glad you posted this. I love pine nuts! I’ll be toasting them from now on. :-)

  8. So interesting to read about the really fresh ones smelling of pine. I had no idea. They have shown up in several Mexican dishes I’ve eaten, but now I’m trying to pull from memory which dishes exactly. I do toast my pine nuts before adding them to the pesto, as I do with every other nut I use. They’re one of my favorites!

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