Saturday, 07 March 2015 15:15

How do Pine Nuts grow?

Did you know pine nuts grow in the cones of pine trees?

  • Latin Name:

    Pinus pinea

  • Growth:

    USDA Hardiness Zones: 7-11  Click here to view USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.


    Most people don’t think cracking open prickly pine cones will provide access to any sort of food - but that is precisely what happens: the edible seeds inside the pine cone are pine - nuts - the very same nuts that make pesto.

    Pine nuts are found in the protective, spiny scales of the pine tree’s cones. There are approximately 20 species of pine that produce seeds large enough to  harvest. The most common variety of pine nut-producing pine tree in North America is Pinus pinea, commonly known as the stone pine, umbrella pine, or pinyon pine.

    The stone pine is a coniferous evergreen that grows to heights over 80 feet, but is more typically about 35 to 65 feet tall. When mature, stone pines produce mid-length, flexible needle-like leaves and broad, ovoid pine cones. During their first year of growth, stone pines develop very strong taproots, making them difficult to transplant.

    It takes a stone pine one to six years to produce pine cones, but in poor soil conditions it could take up to 12 years. They grow well in most soil conditions, except in highly alkalized lime soil. The pine cones of stone trees take 36 months to mature, which is longer than most other varieties of pine.


  • Propagation:

    Stone pines are propagated by seed.

  • Harvest:

    Pine cones are harvested in late summer and early fall. They can be shaken from open pine cones with relative ease. The cones must be dried first and then will easily release the pine nuts.

    Many pine trees grow on public lands and the rights to harvest them are auctioned off by governmental agencies.   

    Commercial growers use shakers and mechanical harvesters to process their crops.

  • Storage:

    Because of their high oil content, pine nuts go rancid quickly if not stored properly. Both shelled and unshelled pine nuts should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week and in the freezer for up to two weeks.


  • History:

    More than 20 species of pine found around the world produce seeds large enough to be harvested as food.  Their history dates back thousands of years to ancient Greece and Rome, Native American tribes in North America, and ancient Asian cultures.

    In ancient Greece and Rome, pine nuts were commonly preserved in honey and were considered an aphrodisiac. Early archaeological records of the Great Basin region in Nevada and Colorado suggest that that the pine nut was the most valuable seed to the earliest known human inhabitants, dating back some 12,000 years. They were a staple food among many tribes, including the Hopi, Shoshone and Paiutes, and were also used in medicinal salves and sacred ceremonies.

  • Top Producers:

    Although no complete statistical data is available regarding world pine nut production, China is inarguably the largest producer of pine nuts in the world, contributing to over 80% of the international market. Russia is also a large producer of pine nuts.

  • Varieties:

    There are approximately 20 varieties of pine that produce pine nuts large enough to harvest for consumption including, the stone (pinion) pine, Korean pine, and Siberian pine.

  • Products:

    Pine nuts are most commonly used as a main ingredient in pesto. They can be eaten raw, roasted or toasted. They are sometimes included in salads, savory dishes, or ground for confectionary uses.


  • Top Health Benefits:

    Pine nuts are one of the most calorie-rich nuts, with ½ cup containing 454 calories. The majority of the pine nut’s caloric count comes from fat - largely, monounsaturated fats like oleic acid, which decreases LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (good) cholesterol levels in the blood.

    Because of their high level of monounsaturated fats, pine nuts are often found in  Mediterranean diets.. Healthy good cholesterol levels help decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, and kidney disease.

    Another fatty acid present in pine nuts, pinolenic acid, helps to slow the absorption of food and promote a feeling of fullness. For this reason, small amounts of pine nuts may be a helpful component in weight loss diets.

    Pine nuts are a good source of the antioxidant, vitamin E, which helps maintain cell membrane and mucous membrane health. Vitamin E also promotes skin health by protecting against oxidative free radical damage.

    Pine nuts are a rich source of the antioxidant mineral, manganese. Manganese is a valuable mineral in bone formation, as well as collagen production, skin health, and blood sugar control.

    Pine nuts are one of the few gluten-free tree nuts. They are a valuable ingredient for people who suffer from wheat allergies and sensitivities and celiac disease.

  • Recipe: