In our early history, people living under pines soon realized that the seeds from inside the cones were nourishing and delicious.
Pine nuts have therefore been consumed since prehistoric times.
The Greeks and Romans loved them. Native Americans collected Whitebark pine cones and put them on the fire. They were then beaten to extract the pine nuts. Pine nuts have always been widely used throughout the Mediterranean region. In the Middle Ages, they were thought to have aphrodisiac qualities, but they were also used as medicine to treat chest pain.
In Provence, pine nuts were used to make a delicacy called pignolat.
The origin of pine nuts is important: if they come from China, there is a high chance that the pine nuts are not from the European Pine, but the Korean Pine. They are often larger.
They should be avoided, along with those from India or Pakistan, because of a risk of dysgeusia (see Nutrition) caused by inedible pine nuts.
Since 2010, pine nuts from Korea, Siberia, and from the European pine tree in Mediterranean countries have been authorized in France.
Those from Spain and Turkey are the best.
Pine nuts should not smell even a tiny bit rancid.
Pine nuts are sold in bags. A best-before date must always be specified.
Pine nuts must be roasted before use, either in a dry pan or in a hot oven.
Commonly used in all Mediterranean cuisines, they are a necessary ingredient of pesto alla genovese. They add sweetness and crunch to salads, tagines, vegetable casseroles, terrines, meat, poultry, or fish dishes, stuffings, sauces, and chutneys. They are sometimes combined with raisins, as in Catalan-style spinach.
In baking, they are often combined with honey; they are used with frangipane to make a tart, are included in cakes, mousses, and cream-based desserts, accompany roast fruits, and are used to stuff croissants.
In North Africa, they are an essential element of Harissa aux pignons (a mixture of powdered almond, icing sugar, and egg white, shaped into a ball and rolled in pine nuts). In Tunisia, they are often served with mint tea.
Pine nuts must be stored in an airtight container and used as soon as possible because they go rancid very quickly.
Pine nuts are very high in fat, much of which is polyunsaturated, and so they are a source of Omega 3. They also provide high quantities of minerals and B vitamins.
A few years ago, it was noticed that certain pine nuts cause dysgeusia, which causes an unpleasant sensation in the mouth, followed by a change and sometimes loss of taste that can last for several weeks. This dysgeusia could be due to a toxin present in certain pine nuts that are unfit for consumption. This is why measures have been taken to authorize or prohibit the importation of certain pine nuts (see Choosing).