The pine tree is mainly found in the northern hemisphere, particularly in Siberia and Canada. The tree grows up to 75 feet tall and has a pyramidal or umbrella-like canopy of dense foliage.
The most commonly harvested pine seeds come from four specific varieties of pine trees: the Mexican pinon (Pinus cembroides), the Colorado pinion (Pinus edulis), the Italian stone pine (P. pinea), and the Chinese nut pine (P. koraiensis)
Harvesting Time and Labor Intensive
Trees can begin producing seeds anywhere between 15 and 25
years after they are planted, and it can take up to triple that time for them to reach peak production. The majority of North American harvests come from wild, uncultivated trees. Generally, the seeds are harvested by hand, contributing to their high price.
The pine nuts are harvested about 10 days before the cone opens and take about 18 months to mature. The pine seeds are found in the pine cones and take about 18 months to mature. In order to speed up and ease the process, the cones are put in a burlap bag and left in the sun to dry for 20 days. Next, the cones are gently smashed, releasing the seeds, which are then manually removed. This is another slow and time-consuming process.
Pine nuts have a second shell on top of the pine cone that must also be removed before eating. Some of these shells are thin and easy to take off while others are thick and more challenging to remove. Pine nuts are understandably expensive due to all of the above factors.
How it looks and how it is used
About 1/2 inch long, pine nuts are small, ivory-colored seeds. Raw seeds have a soft texture and a sweet, buttery flavor. They are often lightly toasted to bring out the flavor and add a bit of crunch.
Many cultures around the world eat pine nuts, and they go by many names. The most popular use in the U.S. is in pesto or as a crunchy salad topping. In addition to hummus, they can be added to desserts like shortbread cookies.