When do you think of pine nuts what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Do you imagine the tiny yellowish nut or it’s buttery taste? Or you immediately think of an Italian pesto on your pasta or gnocchi? Or maybe you get disturbed by its extremely high price? Or maybe, you would like to know what are its health benefits?
I guess, that the environment will not pop-up as first. Am I right?
But unfortunately, it should. This tiny nut is indeed very delicious and healthy but it also has an extremely negative impact on the environment.
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Thanks to the higher demand the harvesting is getting so unsustainable that it can lead to a complete collapse in a few years.
What are pine nuts?
Pine nuts are actually edible seeds of pine trees that are grown in many countries around the world. They are very popular in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Mongolian or Russian cuisine. Also, you can find them in Middle Eastern, New Mexican or American cuisines.
One of the largest eaters is definitely Italians that base their original pesto on it.
Pine nuts produced in Europe are cultivated for more than 5 000 years and they come from the stone pine. In Asia, the most known and harvested varieties are the Korean pine and chilgoza pine from the Western Himalaya.
Other known trees are so-called pinyon pines like Colorado pinyon, single-leaf pinyon and Mexican pinyon. All harvested in North America.
The biggest producers are South Korea, Russia, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Italy.
Health benefits and nutrition.
Pine nuts are full of monosaturated fats that can lead to lowering cholesterol. They contain a lot of vitamins E and K, they rich in copper, manganese, and iron. All of these components can prevent heart diseases.
Also, the pine nuts contain arginine that is increasing blood flow. This can lead to better libido and sexual endurance.
Harvesting of pine nuts.
To get pine nuts out of the cones they have to be fully matured. This process varies among the species and it can take up to 36 months (stone pines). There are several harvesting techniques used but the most used one is to collect the cones with a burlap bag.
The cones are later on exposed to a heat source like the sun so they can start to dry. It can take up to 20 days until the cones are fully dry and open and the pine nuts are released.
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Another way of harvesting is to leave the cones dry naturally on the trees and then just collect the fallen seeds from the ground.
This leads me to the third way of harvesting that belongs to the first environmental issues.
As mentioned above there are several ways of harvesting the pine nuts. Few of them are nature friendly and protect the trees.
But there is a technique that can affect and ruin the whole ecosystem.
This technique is called destructive harvesting. It basically means that the whole branches are chopped. The cones are later on mechanically destroyed and the seeds are separated. The leftover trees are then chopped down for timber.
The destructive harvesting and timber production is the main reason why the production capacity is lower each year.
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To get a healthy cone with pine nuts the trees have to grow in very good environmental conditions.
For your better understanding, the pine trees have to grow in a specific elevation and get enough water. If this is not kept, the quality and the amount of the nuts will decrease significantly.
To plant new trees takes only a short period of time. But it takes up to 8 years until the trees mature and then another 2-3 years until the first cones appear. And as global warming is not slowing down and many places are destroyed by unpredictable weather and happenings (fires, floods, dry periods, storms and strong winds), it can be that in few years there will be no pine nuts.
The higher demand and our appetite for the pine nuts pushed the prices extremely high. Today you can buy 700g of Siberian pine nuts for £26,98 which is around $33,27 on Amazon.
And the prices are still not the biggest concern here. Overproduction and destructive harvesting are simply killing the whole ecosystem. The more pine nuts are harvested the less of them stays for the animals to eat. Birds, chipmunks or red deer are left without food during the winter. This shortage of food can often lead to their deaths.
Also, in some places in Siberia and China, the cones are collected by people that have nothing common with legal production. Those pine nuts are then sold on the markets or transported abroad. So if you see pine nuts that are very cheap, be aware that they might come from an illegal source.
As you see, even the smallest nuts can have a huge impact on the environment. Our big appetite for the Italian pesto, various kinds of pasta, salads or even veggie pizza is getting out of control.
To be very honest, the sources are limited. We either start caring more about nature and the environment or soon we will live in an empty place.
If you wanna eat pine nuts in 10 or 20 years from now, start checking the origin and the way the nuts were harvested. Be responsible, buy responsibly.