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The Pleasure of Pignoli

Pignoli (or pine nuts) are one of life’s yummiest indulgences. If they appear in a dish, it’s suddenly more special, more richly-flavored. What is it about these pale little bits of goodness?

Enjoyed since ancient Rome, legend tells us that warriors ate them for strength and in ancient Greece, authors extolled their virtues as early as 300 BC.

Similar in nutrition to other nuts by virtue of containing healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, pine nuts are, in fact, not actually nuts, but seeds – of pine trees to be specific. Found between the scales of pine cones, these delicate seeds don’t last very long once hulled. Their rich oil content causes them to go rancid quickly. I store mine in the freezer to extend the shelf life of these expensive babies.

Pignoli are considered a delicacy in many countries and in the US, they have grown into a huge market, even though about 80% of our pine nuts are imported. Eaten raw or roasted, their sweetly delicate, nutty taste adds the perfect touch of richness and crunchy texture to any snack, veggie dish, whole grain recipe, sauce (think pesto…) and of course, dessert.

Pine nuts are more than yummy, however. They’re seriously good for you. I don’t know about you, but l adore when good health and delicious flavor collide!

 

Pignoli can…

…Help Us Lose Weight
As rich as they taste, pignoli can aid in weight loss. Research reveals that the fatty acids in pine nuts lead to the release of cholecystokinin (CCK), which is an appetite-suppressing hormone. Further study shows that, among women who consumed pine nuts’ fatty “pinolenic acid” before breakfast ate 37% less food during the day because absorption of food in the gut was slowed.

 

…Energize Us
Like most nuts and seeds, pine nuts provide us with tremendous energy because of their rich content of mono-unsaturated fats, protein and iron, as well as magnesium (which can lead to fatigue when depleted or at low levels). One teeny half-cup of pine nuts provides all the magnesium we need for a day.

 

…Keep Our Tickers Ticking
Pine nuts contain an amazing combination of compounds known to support heart health, including vitamin E and K and manganese, along with magnesium and healthy fat.

Research shows that pinolenic acid supports healthy cholesterol levels and may contribute to LDL-lowering.

 

…Defy Aging
Want to age gracefully? Then crunch on some pine nuts. Antioxidants including Vitamins A, B, C, D and E, as well as lutein are crucial to how you age because of their ongoing battle with free-radical damage, which is linked to age-related deterioration.

 

…Keep Our Eyes Healthy
A rich source of lutein (a carotenoid that helps ward off eye diseases like macular degeneration), regular consumption of pignoli can help defend your precious peepers from degenerative disease. 

You might be thinking that pine nuts are elitist. They’re the fanciest of all the nuts. They're smaller, cuter and have a sweet, subtle flavor. They cost a small fortune, but we buy them when we can because they’re worth it when we add them to our cooking -- just think of all that summer pesto.

Why exactly are pine nuts such a big deal and so precious? We know they come from pine cones, but did you know it takes eighteen months to three years for them to mature? They bud in spring and grow through summer, going dormant throughout fall and winter, coming into their own the following spring and summer.

Pine nuts are no joke to harvest either. Once the nuts are ready, the cones are sun-dried in a burlap sack for about 20 days. The cones are then smashed, releasing the seeds which are then separated—by hand – from the cone fragments. Finally, the tender seed we adore has to be removed from an outer shell, again, by hand. Yikes! That’s a lot of intensive labor. Now you see why they’re so expensive.

Pine nuts taste so good, we deal with the price. Without them, there wouldn’t be richly flavored pesto as we know it. They are fabulous in pasta and salad. They give cookies a richness you can’t compare with other nuts or seeds.

Do we need pignoli? No, but eating would be the duller without them. Thanks, pine nuts!

Recipe
Fettucine Alfredo

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