There are over 100 species of pine trees, and 29 of these produce edible seeds, known as pine nuts. Most of the pine nuts available in the U.S. are harvested from pine trees that grow in China, Korea, or Mexico. The nutritional composition of these pine nuts is quite different from the Mediterranean pine nuts, which are the seeds of the Stone Pine (Pinus pinea; also called the Umbrella Pine), which is native to Italy, Spain, and Portugal. The Stone Pine is tall, reaching up to 75 feet in height, and the cones take longer to mature than any other pine. People of the Mediterranean region have been eating the nuts of Pinus pinea (also called pignolia) for thousands of years — there is evidence that pignolia were eaten and used to make wine in ancient Rome.1,2
All pine nuts have exceptional nutritional value. They are rich sources of numerous health-promoting minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals:
The pignolia of the Mediterranean region are nutritionally unique among pine nuts.
- Exceptionally high vitamin K content3
- High levels of natural vitamin E, a valuable antioxidant nutrient.4
- Rich in the minerals phosphorus, zinc, non-heme iron, and manganese.5
- Contain a distinctive type of polyunsaturated fat called delta5-olefinic acids.6 One of these fatty acids, pinolenic acid, has been shown to curb appetite in women by increasing secretion of satiety hormones.7
In addition to the health benefits listed above, Mediterranean pine nuts:
- Are lower in calories than other pine nuts.
- Have a favorable omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, almost ten times higher than other pine nuts.
- Contain high levels of cholesterol-lowering phytosterols - pignolia tie with pistachios for the highest phytosterol content of all nuts.
- Contain more than twice the protein of other nuts including other pine nuts. This feature of pignolia makes them especially useful as a nutritional supplement for athletes, who have greater than average protein requirements. This is also useful for anyone who wants to add nutrient-rich calories to their diet without adding excessive fat. At 34% protein by weight, Mediterranean pine nuts are richer in protein than any other plant food, including soybeans (10%), sesame seeds (18%), sunflower seeds (21%), and even hemp seeds (33%). Pignolia are more expensive than other nuts and seeds, but their nutritional profile makes them a very valuable addition to an athlete's diet.5,8-11
How do you tell the difference between Mediterranean and other pine nuts?
Most commonly available pine nuts are cone-shaped, with dark coloration at the smaller end, whereas pignolia are long, with an even diameter. Pignolia are extremely rare in stores in the U.S., but you can find them here!
Enjoy Mediterranean pine nuts as a topping on your salad, blended in your smoothie, in a vegetable medley, in a soup, processed with fresh herbs into pesto, or just by themselves!
1. Wikipedia: Stone Pine. February 25, 2011]; Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_Pine.
2. Non-wood forest products from conifers. Chapter 8: Seeds, Fruit, and Cones. FAO Corporate Document Repository.
3. Dismore, M.L., et al., Vitamin K content of nuts and fruits in the US diet. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2003. 103(12): p. 1650-2.
4. Nasri, N., et al., High tocopherol and triacylglycerol contents in Pinus pinea L. seeds. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 2009. 60 Suppl 1: p. 161-9.
5. Evaristo, I., et al., Chemical profiling of Portuguese Pinus pinea L. nuts. Journal of the science of food and agriculture, 2010. 90(6): p. 1041-9.
6. Wolff, R.L., et al., General characteristics of Pinus spp. seed fatty acid compositions, and importance of delta5-olefinic acids in the taxonomy and phylogeny of the genus. Lipids, 2000. 35(1): p. 1-22.
7. Pasman, W.J., et al., The effect of Korean pine nut oil on in vitro CCK release, on appetite sensations and on gut hormones in post-menopausal overweight women. Lipids in Health and Disease, 2008. 7: p. 10.
8. NutritionData.com: Nutrient Search Tool. 2009]; Available from: http://www.nutritiondata.com/tools/nutrient-search.
9. Food Composition Database for Epidemiological Studies in Italy (Banca Dati di Composizione degli Alimenti per Studi Epidemiologici in Italia - BDA). 1998.
10. Nasri, N., B. Fady, and S. Triki, Quantification of sterols and aliphatic alcohols in Mediterranean stone pine (Pinus pinea L.) populations. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 2007. 55(6): p. 2251-5.
11. Bob's Red Mill: Hulled Hemp Seed. February 28, 2011]; Available from: http://www.bobsredmill.com/hulled-hemp-seed.html.