Pine nuts are great addition sauces, pestos, kinds of pasta, salads, and savory desserts. They taste great and have a nice, soft texture which also makes them an excellent garnish for many kinds of dishes.
They are also rich in nutrients, vitamins, and protein while also providing a good source of monounsaturated fats. However, there are several reasons why you would want to omit or replace them in certain recipes. So, what are you to do?
In this article, you will find out which is the best substitute for pine nuts in different culinary applications and recipes. Scroll down to learn more!
What are Pine Nuts?
Pine nuts come from pine trees. They have a tear-drop shape and tannish color, each seed measuring about half an inch long. They can be enjoyed raw and have a sweet, buttery flavor and a soft bite. They can also be used as ingredients in making sauces, entrees, and desserts like Pignoli cookies, which are Italian-American sweet treats made with almond flour dough served with toasted pine nuts as toppings.
It is common to find pine nuts being eaten all throughout Asia, Europe, and the United States. They can be cooked with fish, meat, or baked goods or even included in salads. Powdered or crushed pine nuts are a popular addition to classic pesto and other dishes.
Why are pine nuts so expensive?
One of the major reasons why you could use knowing pine nuts substitutes is because they are pretty expensive. The prices are not always stable but they usually range between US$60 to US$120 per pound! And there are a few reasons why:
Not All Pine Seeds are Edible
You might be wondering why there isn’t a lot of pine nuts available when there are tons of pine trees everywhere. Well, while pine nuts do come from pine trees and all pine trees produce seeds, very few are edible.
Out of the 20 pine tree species that produce large enough seeds worth harvesting and selling, only a handful are edible. Other pine seeds that are edible, on the other hand, are too small to even be significant for consumption much less for harvesting.
Harvesting Them is Extremely Tedious
Harvesting and gathering pine nuts is also a tedious job. For one, pine trees do not grow in dense clusters or closely together which means they are spread over wide areas. Also, the species of pine trees that produce edible pine nuts here in the US are desert species, so they are spread even farther apart. This makes gathering the pine cones and seeds extra laborious.
The actual harvesting process involves either harvesting unripe green cones and allow them to ripen then break the cones to extract the seeds or you can wait for the cones to ripen on the trees but in this case, you will have to pick each pine nut from the ground. Both of these are labor-intensive, time-consuming and expensive.
On top of all that, the harvest season only occurs for a course of a few weeks. Therefore, farmers have to do everything all at once, which further adds to the cost.
There is Low Supply and High Demand
Due to climate change, the quality and health of pine trees are being affected worldwide. In the few recent years, pine nuts grown in countries like Russia and China, which are major producers of the seeds have significantly decreased in quality and quantity.
This, combined with the increasing demand as recipes for savory desserts, pastries, sauces, and pestos that call for pine nuts are becoming more and more popular, make the prices shoot higher.
There is a particularly high demand for Italian and Chinese pine nuts.
Other Reasons Why People Avoid Pine Nuts
- Some people who are allergic to more common nuts and seeds are generally also allergic to pine nuts.
- Many people who are aware of the unfair system in harvesting and producing pine nuts where the actual workers do not receive their fair share of the high prices are choosing to boycott the product altogether.
- There is such a thing as pine mouth a.k.a. pine nut syndrome which is a type of taste disturbance experienced by some people after consuming pine nuts. This causes a bitter or metallic taste that can last for a few days to several weeks. The pine nuts do not taste any different as you eat them but after a while, the bitter metallic taste is felt and worsened with consumption of certain food and drinks. While it is not permanent and have no other adverse health effects, there is no known remedy and it is very unpleasant, causing people to avoid eating pine nuts. Cheaper pine nuts are more prone to causing pine mouth and these are often the ones harvested in Asia where labor has a lower cost.
The Best Substitute for Pine Nuts
Cooking and preparing your favorite food should not break the bank. With all these other reasons that make pine nuts less preferable, what’s left to do is to look for alternatives.
Listed below are some of the best and most common pine nut substitutes that are not as expensive and do not cause pine mouth but impart similar flavors:
While they are relatively blander, almonds are typically considered as a good alternative for pine nuts due to their similar texture. The texture and rich flavor of almonds work well for deserts. However, make sure to use fresh almonds with the skins removed. Slivering and roasting give almonds a more intense nutty flavor. Blanched and slivered almonds are great pine nuts substitutes in most recipes except classic pesto.
Walnuts are traditionally used as alternatives to pine nuts when making Pesto alla Genovese. However, it is important to get fresh walnuts and get all of the skin off. Otherwise, your pesto will be rancid and bitter. Roasting can also help tone down the bitterness. You can crush, chop, or pound walnuts when using them to replace pine nuts.
Pistachios are an ideal replacement for pine nuts when making Pesto sauce. They impart a sweeter taste and enhance the green color of the sauce. Adding a bit of parsley will balance the taste of pistachio.
Milder and sweeter than walnuts, pecans are preferred by some people. You can use these as pine nuts substitute for making breads and desserts. Try roasting them for a more intense, pleasant flavor.
Though hazelnuts are not as common as walnuts and pistachios, they can also be used to replace pine nuts when cooking. If you haven’t yet, try using hazelnut instead for Mediterranean and Italian dishes for a pleasant surprise! These nuts also go well with chocolate or as salad toppings.
Peanuts are the cheapest substitute out there. For best results, use honey-roasted or unsalted peanuts for your dishes. Note, however, that many people have peanut allergies.
Though they are not really cheaper than pine nuts, macadamia nuts are a great substitute in terms of texture and taste. They have a creamier, richer, and stronger flavor that works excellently in desserts and sweets. With some parsley and some mint, these nuts can also be an ingredient for an amazing pesto sauce!
Considered as close alternatives for pine nuts, many people opt to use cashew nuts. Try them roasted for a flavor boost or combine them with raisins and lemon zest in cooking for a refreshing savory sweet flavor. Pro tip: cashew nut pieces are much cheaper than whole cashew nuts.
For those looking for nut-free substitutes for pine nuts, sunflower seeds are a great option. These will add a nice crunch to salads, sauces, and more. However, it can give a grayish color and may affect the green color of pesto sauce. They also have a different flavor profile and are more oily but do give them a try!
Although only rarely, sesame seeds may also work as pine nuts alternatives in sauces, salads, and desserts. Roasted or fried sesame seeds complement a lot of dishes with their crispness and nutty flavor.
Many recipes suggest using pumpkin seeds or pepitas as pine nuts replacements. These are also a great source of minerals and proteins. Not to mention pumpkin seeds are perfect for people who are allergic to nuts.
The best substitute for pine nuts really comes down to your personal preferences and taste. It could also depend on your reason why you want to replace pine nuts in your dishes in the first place. Either way, there are several options for you to choose from!