Monday, September 1, 2008

Stump the Chef: Pine Nuts

I've created the Stump the Chef category because honestly, I get asked questions during classes and seminars that I don't have the answer to, and I'm not so far gone to think I SHOULD know everything. In fact, some of these are down right funny, like this first example -- Pine Nuts -- which seems to be really obvious, but even though I've been using pine nuts for YEARS I never really gave thought as to their source.

Recently at the Healthy Desserts class down in Warm Springs, I got stumped: What are pinenuts? Do they really come from pine trees? Are they indeed a nut?

I'm surprised I didn't know this, but yes, they DO come from pine trees, although they're really seeds, not nuts. Although all pine tree seeds are edible most are too small to make harvesting worthwhile, and most of the varieties we're familiar with come from about 20 different varieties of pine trees. Pine nuts are native to North America, Asia, the Middle East/Mediterranean/North Africa and Europe. American varieties contain less protein than European varieties, but either way all pine nuts contain more protein than any other "common" nut. Asian varieties tend to have more pine flavor, which is all but absent from the seed of the Stone Pine that most cooks are familiar with. For an everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know look at pine nuts click this Wikipedia article.

The harvesting process is interesting and can be messy because you're dealing with unopened pine cones and that sticky tar or "pitch" that comes along with pine trees. Liston Pine Nuts are harvested in Nevada, and they've put out a TON of info about pine nuts, their harvesting and storage with recipes and much more on their website

Pine nuts have a meaty almost creamy texture kind of like a soft cashew but less sweet. They have wonderful mild flavor that is enhanced to a sweet nuttiness when toasted. They have a fairly high oil content so adding them to low fat diet can provide some of that "fat satisfaction" that you may be tempted to acheive from a french fry binge. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips next time you get a salty, fatty craving, top your salad, rice dish or main protein with some toasted pine nuts to give your body what it craves.

If you're allergic to tree nuts, you're probably allergic to pine nuts too. Sorry. They aren't a nut substitute.

Some Life Chef recipes that use pine nuts include Poached Pears with Figs and Greek Yogurt and Summer Greens with Pine Nuts and Lemon.

In many recipes that cause for toasted almonds, pecans or walnuts, try using pine nuts. Store them in the refrigerator if you're not going to use them up immediately. Like many fresh nuts, they can become rancid in warmer temperatures if left out.

I hope that clears up any ambiguity you may have had regarding pine nuts and their uses. I'm still giggling that after all these years I never knew that!

If you have any questions and want to play Stump the Chef feel free to email me. It's a great way for me to keep learning, and a true chef is never "done learnin'."

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