If you’ve ever eaten at an Italian restaurant, chances are you’ve enjoyed some freshly toasted bread smothered in butter and pine nuts.
Pine nuts, known in Italy as pinole, are the edible seeds of several species of pine trees.
These small white kernels, about the size and shape of a shelled almond, have a delicate buttery flavor and a firm texture that makes them ideal for salads and pesto.
Pine nuts’ unique taste and texture make them among the most versatile ingredients in Italian cooking.
They are used in a wide range of dishes, from pestos and salad dressings to pasta dishes and even sweet dessert pastries.
Pine nuts have long been considered a delicacy in Italy. The Romans called them pignoli, which is where we get our modern name for these tasty little morsels.
Today they are widely used throughout the Mediterranean region, including Spain, Portugal, and Greece.
You may want to learn why pine nuts are so expensive before you shell out big bucks on a bag of them, though!
Here’s what you need to know about this tasty treat and its cost.
Things you can do with your pine nuts
Before we get into why pine nuts cost so much, it’s important to know what you can do with them.
The simplest and most obvious use is as a garnish or sprinkled on top of finished dishes.
Alternatively, toss a few into salads for some added crunch, or add them to pesto for some extra flavor.
Pine nuts can be used in baking as well; try using them in your next batch of cookies, cakes, or quick bread!
Do pine nuts have gluten in them?
Pine nuts are gluten-free, but most people with a serious allergy to gluten steer clear of them for a different reason: Pinus koraiensis, a close relative of Asian pines like Korean and Japanese red pine trees, have had problems with their seeds in recent years.
According to some sources, there is a chance that they could be contaminated with gluten due to shared production lines.
Note that most varieties of pinus nuts are not affected by cross-contamination issues.
Why are Pine Nuts so Expensive?
What makes pine nuts so expensive? Pine nuts are in high demand because of their distinctive, rich flavor, high nutritional value, and versatility as an ingredient.
They are used extensively in Mediterranean cuisine, particularly Italian and Greek food, as well as on many other types of dishes from around the world.
In fact, there are over 150 species of pine trees that produce pine nuts, and all of them have to be hand-picked by workers.
The vast majority of pine nuts come from just two species of pine tree – Chinese red pine and Japanese black pine, with nearly 99% coming from China.
1. The Forces of Demand and Supply
The price of pine nuts has been increasing steadily over the years due to factors such as demand exceeding supply and low harvest yields because of climate change and natural disasters.
The pine cones need to be collected at just the right time so they contain ripe seeds. The pine cones must then be stored for several months before they can be processed.
Once collected, the seeds must be separated from the cone manually and then dried to remove all moisture before storage or packaging for sale.
The demand for these tiny tasty seeds also contributes to their high price tag; pine nuts are used in cooking around the world and are especially popular in pesto sauce.
This is a growing demand for pine nuts across various markets around the globe that is putting pressure on supply.
2. Difficult to Harvest
Pine nuts, the edible seeds of pine trees, are both expensive and difficult to harvest.
Pine nuts are used in a wide variety of dishes, as well as pesto sauce, and they must be manually removed from pine cones by hand.
The pine trees themselves produce cones only infrequently and then not always in sufficient numbers to make harvesting the pine nuts economically worthwhile.
Pinyon pines, which grow in the American Southwest and Mexico, are one of the most common sources of commercially-sold pine nuts in the United States.
Other countries that produce pine nuts commercially include China, Korea, and Russia.
3. Health Benefits
Pine nuts are expensive because they contain high levels of essential fatty acids, including omega-3s.
These fatty acids have been shown to improve brain function and heart health, as well as lower cholesterol levels.
Pine nuts also contain high levels of antioxidants, which are great for your immune system and reduce the risk of certain cancers.
They’re a great source of protein and fiber, and they taste good too!
For all these reasons, pine nuts have been called “the most nutritious nut” by many health experts.
4. Very Rare Nuts
Pine nuts are very rare nuts which makes them more expensive than other nuts, but the taste and nutritional value of pine nuts make them worth their price.
Pine nuts can be used in various recipes to improve the taste of the food prepared. Pine nuts can be eaten raw or roasted, both ways they contain some amount of nutrients.
Pine nuts are a rich source of monounsaturated fats, which help lower cholesterol levels in the blood and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Pine nuts contain proteins and essential nutrients like thiamin, vitamin E, niacin, folic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc.
Eating pine nuts has been linked to improved immune system function.
Pine nuts are also considered a good source of healthy fats that can help prevent obesity.
5. They’re Not Native to the U.S or Canada
Pine nuts are definitely the most expensive nut out there, but do you know why?
Pine nuts are not native to the United States or Canada so they need to be imported.
This makes them more expensive than other nuts because of how much it costs to ship them here.
The pine tree is native to North America but it does not produce a large enough pine nut for American consumers.
In fact, pine nuts from the U.S. are only sold in specialty stores and at a very high price since they come from such small trees.
The most popular pine nut comes from China and is called the Chinese White Pine Nut (Pinus armandii).
This kind of nut has been used in Chinese cooking for thousands of years and is still very popular today.
6. Labor Intensive Harvest
If you’ve ever tried to shear the pignoli from the pine cone by hand, you can appreciate why they’re so expensive to produce.
Unlike other nuts such as pecans, almonds, and walnuts that come in shell form and are easily cracked open with a nutcracker, pine nuts are encased in a thick sheath of scales that must be removed prior to shelling.
The process is labor-intensive and time-consuming.
The pine tree produces nuts approximately every other year, but the harvest is unpredictable due to weather conditions.
Pine trees take 20 years or more to reach maturity, but because of pests and other difficulties, many trees never reach full maturity.
7. Time-consuming to Extract
Pine nuts are one of the most delicious and nutritious foods you can eat. They have a distinctive flavor, high protein content, and are rich in vitamin E.
The problem is that pine nuts are very time-consuming to extract. For example, one tree can produce up to 7 pounds of pine nuts, but it takes 20 hours of labor to shell them all!
That’s not even counting the time it takes for them to dry out after harvesting before being shelled again for sale at health food stores around the world!
This makes pine nut oil an expensive delicacy with few competitors on store shelves.