By Harold McGee
Pine nuts are gathered from about a dozen of the 100 species of pines, one of the most familiar evergreen tree families in the Northern Hemisphere. Among the more important sources are the Italian stone pine Pinus pinea, the Korean or Chinese pine P. koraiensis, and the southwestern U.S. pinyons P. monophylla and P. edulis. The nuts are borne on the scales of the pine cone, which takes three years to mature. The cones are sun-dried, threshed to shake out the seeds, and the kernels then hulled, nowadays by machine. They have a distinctive, resinous aroma and are rich even for nuts; Asian pine nuts have a higher oil content (78%) than either American or European types (62% and 45% respectively). They’re used in many savory and sweet preparations, and pressed to make oil. In Korea, pine pollen is used to make sweets, and Romanians flavor game sauces with the green cones.