Pine Nuts & Their Nutritional Qualities
There are actually around 20 known species of Pine Nuts, including ‘Old world’ varieties like Stone Pine, Swiss Pine, Korean Pine and ‘New world’ species such as Coulter Pine and California Pine.
Their consumption dates back to the Paleolithic era, with evidence found in DNA samples from Neanderthal remains. The most common Pine Nut species you’ll see on store shelves include Korean Pine and Mediterrenean Stone Pine. The latter are often hard to source and are expensive to produce, so the Asian varieties are more readily available to consumers.
The Mediterranean Pines produce Pine Nuts that are longer in size, while Korean Pines yield a broader kernel and are higher in healthy fats. All Pine Nuts are blonde in colour with a sweet, buttery texture.
Different species have different nutrient content, but overall the consensus is they are heart-healthy, good for digestion and are an energy-dense little kernel with lots of versatility.
For their size, their macronutrient ratio is impressive, with around 30% protein and 45% total fat content.
Some data suggests dried Pine Nuts could also contain up to 68% fat, which is music to my ears. Natural sources of fat, both saturated and unsaturated are now well regarded as being protective against a wealth of health issues. It makes sense then that nuts and seeds are considered a healthful inclusion in most modern diets.
Antioxidants, linoleic acid, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, zinc and vitamin E all feature strongly as well, supporting cellular energy production, skin health and cardiovascular health. Specific to Pine Nuts is the polyphenol pinolenic acid, which has hunger-suppressing qualities, helping support healthy weight management.
Pine Nut Syndrome
John Cleese of Monty Python-fame says it best, but I’ll give it a go myself:
And now for something completely different...
Reports of Pine Nut Syndrome or Pine Mouth Syndrome have been around for at least 15 years, with several thousand cases documented to date. It seems in certain people, the consumption of Pine Nuts causes dysgeusia or metallogeusia which are scientific terms to describe an unusual or metallic taste in the mouth.
Some of the reports indicate that the P. armandii species of Pine Nut from China has the strongest association with this phenomenon. Other reports suggest it can happen with any variety and yet other research states it comes down to the individual who consumes them, with women more affected than men.
There could also be a genetic variant in certain individuals which mean they are more likely to experience this bitter taste following Pine Nut consumption. One 2015 case report discussed the findings from a 23 year old female, where they discovered she had a ‘bitter receptor gene’ variant and revealed a potential link between this gene and symptom presentation. While this is just a single study with one participant, it’s still an interesting hypothesis to consider.
In all the documented cases though, Pine Nut Syndrome seems to be self limiting after a few days or a bit longer. Some accompanying symptoms include dryness and a full sensation around the tonsils. The metallic taste would occur after eating any meal during this time but would eventually resolve without lasting consequences.
The reason why I find this interesting, is it provides another screening question for health providers. In clinical practice, it wouldn’t be uncommon for patients to present with a range of ‘odd’ sounding symptoms, including having a taste of metal in the mouth. In natural medicine, this can sometimes be a symptom of a mineral imbalance, usually involving iron or zinc.
However if nothing else, for me this research has served as a good reminder to ask patients a simple question: ‘Have you eaten any Pine Nuts lately?’
Pine Nut Allergy
Not as novel as Pine Nut Syndrome, yet still important to be aware of are the incidences of pine nut allergy. Like sesame seeds, pine nuts are sometimes overlooked as a potential food trigger in adults and children.
A 2012 randomized controlled trial examined the specific characterisation of Pine Nut allergy in a small group of teenagers and young adults. The results showed 80% of the reactions were severe, which means those who are susceptible to Pine Nut allergies are more likely to have an intense allergic response than a mild one.
This small study also infers that people who have an issue with Pine Nuts are more likely to know about it and take measures accordingly.
Typical immune-mediated symptoms to be aware of include itchy and watery eyes, skin irritation, redness and swelling of the throat and airways. Cross-reactivity is also possible if you have allergies to other tree nuts or are sensitive to pollen from Pine Trees.
If in doubt, always consult a trusted health provider to investigate the cause of your health concerns.
For the majority of us, Pine Nuts are very healthy, very delicious and very versatile. Enjoy them! I hope like me, you gained a bit of Pine Nut knowledge and are happy for the stumble down the rabbit hole.
Sweet Red Pesto
If there’s a recipe that’s most associated with pine nuts, it’d have to be pesto. However for a break from a classic green pesto, change things up a bit and try this sweet red pesto. Enjoy on toast, tossed through pasta or on some grilled chicken.
- 3 large red capsicums, halved and deseeded, membranes removed
- 1 small bunch of basil leaves
- 1 garlic clove
- 100g pine nuts
- 1/2 tsp. chilli flakes (optional)
- ¼ - ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- cracked black pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- In a hot oven, place capsicum halves face-down on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Grill
- for 10 minutes or until skin has blackened.
- Once cooked, remove capsicums from the oven and place into a large bowl, cover with cling
- film or a large plate. Leave for 5 minutes.
- Gently peel capsicum skins away from the flesh and place roasted capsicum pieces into a food
- Add basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, chilli flakes, pepper and olive oil.
- Pulse until mostly smooth with some texture remaining. Add more olive oil if required.
- Enjoy immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
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