Key Ingredient


Ingredient of the week


Pine nuts are rarely enjoyed in and of themselves like other nuts. They are more of a gourmet item because of their cost, yet pine nuts have been a common ingredient in Mediterranean and Asian cuisine for thousands of years. Italians have especially embraced this unique nut, using it in a variety of savory and sweet recipes.

The basics: Pine nuts are the seeds of particular species of pine trees, including the Italian or stone pine, Chinese pine and the North American pinyon pine grown in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The nuts are housed in the pine cones, which are harvested before they mature and fall to the ground. Removing the tiny ivory nuts from the cone and their individual shells is very labor-intensive and thus adds to the price of pine nuts.

The different varieties have slightly different flavors, with the Chinese pine nut the most robust. It's also believed that the various climates and regions where the pines grow affect the flavors of the nuts. Pine nuts are high in protein and fat.

Selecting: Pine nuts are generally sold shelled and packaged. Watch out for nuts that are discolored -- a sign of age.

Storing: Because of their high fat content, pine nuts will turn rancid very quickly. Store in an airtight container and place in the refrigerator for up to a couple of months.

Use: Pine nuts, like many nuts and seeds, are more flavorful when slightly toasted. The nuts can then be tossed in salads, including spinach, rice and couscous mixes. Pine nuts can also be added to stir-fry dishes or used in stuffings. The nuts are an essential ingredient in pesto, but can also be added whole to a variety of other pasta dishes. Try making a spread with pine nuts, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and herbs or add pine nuts to cookies and quick breads.

Where to buy: Pine nuts are available at most supermarkets, Asian markets and health food stores.

Food Stuffs: Morsels

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga is
a free-lance food writer. Contact her
online through

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