Most of us (even the serious gourmet types amongst us) haven’t really thought of pine nuts beyond the realms of a decent pesto sauce or at the most, toasted and sprinkled in salads or used as an ingredient for breads. However the ‘David’ of the nut world, is quietly raising its profile against the well established ‘Goliaths’.
Did you know that pine nuts have been eaten in Asia and Europe since the Paleolithic period? For the non history buff, it’s a seriously long time. In Italian they are called pinoli (in the U.S. they are often called “pignoli” but in Italy “pignolo” is actually a word far more commonly used to describe an overly fastidious or extremely meticulous person).
The Chinese culture is even more wax lyrical in its references to the pine nut. The pine tree, on account of its evergreen foliage, is considered by the Chinese as an emblem of longevity and immortality. Its resin is considered an animated soul-substance, the counterpart of blood in men and animals. In ancient China, Taoist seekers of immortality consumed much of the tree’s resin, hoping thereby to prolong life.The Shouxing, Chinese god of Longevity, is usually represented standing at the foot of a pine. In traditional pictures of “happiness, honor and longevity”, the pine-tree represents longevity. It is believed by the Chinese to suppress all sensations of hunger, cure various diseases, and lengthen life.
When you think of a nut, it’s quite likely that a pine nut doesn’t come to mind, but maybe it should. Although technically not a nut: it’s actually a seed from the pine cone, this under-appreciated snack is bursting with health benefits…
1. They curb your appetite
It may surprise you to learn that pine nuts can be a potent appetite suppressor. Why? They’re a good source of a polyunsaturated fat known as pinolenic acid. When you eat a handful of pine nuts, the pinolenic acid stimulates the secretion of a hormone produced by the intestines known as CCK. CCK sends the signal to your brain that you’re full which turns off your appetite. It also helps to slow down the rate at which your stomach empties so you feel full and satisfied longer. Who would have dreamed these tiny seeds from the pine cone could zap your appetite?
2. They’re nutritional powerhouses
A single serving of the lowly pine nut can provide you with up to fourteen grams of protein per serving, depending upon the species. Pine nuts are anywhere from ten to thirty-four percent protein. They’re also an excellent source of fibre as well as vitamins E, K, and niacin. In terms of minerals, they’re an excellent source of magnesium and potassium which is important for maintaining a healthy heart and blood pressure.
3. They’re heart healthy
Pine nuts are high in monounsaturated fats, the same “heart healthy” fats that make nuts and olive oil so beneficial. These fats have not only been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels but also help to protect the arteries from damage which can lead to a heart attack.
4. They offer antioxidant protection
Pine nuts are also high in antioxidants which help to protect the cells of your body from free radical damage. Pine nuts help in delivering even more antioxidant power to your salads.
How to eat them…
There are so many ways to add the health benefits of pine nuts to your diet. Sprinkle them on salads or onto vegetables and pasta dishes. They make up one of the main ingredients in basil pesto. To bring out their rich, buttery flavour even more, lightly toast them. Try experimenting in your own kitchen with these tasty “nutty” seeds. You’ll soon wonder how you ever cooked without them.
In exploiting the edible seed of the pine tree, modern cooks are perpetuating an ancient foodway. Archeologists have found piñon seed coats carbon-dated as 6,000 years old. When Spanish explorers arrived in the South west Of North America in the 16th century, they found Native Americans grinding pine nuts for flour and mashing them to make a savoury spread.
Apparently, the ancient Greeks and Romans also ate pine nuts. Archaeologists have found the seeds in the ruins of Pompeii. Indeed, according to Johan’s Guide to Aphrodisiacs, pine nuts were a sort of early Viagra. The Roman poet Ovid includes “the nuts that the sharp-leaved pine brings forth” on a list of love potions; Galen, a second-century Greek, recommended pine nuts with honey and almonds, taken on three consecutive nights, before a night of passion.
Today’s consumers don’t need any encouragement to keep downing pasta al pesto. But now we know that every bite might be stoking that love-making fire.