Pine nuts - Which ones are safe?

It’s been a few years since I last bought a bag of pine nuts. The last time I did, there had been a lot of discussions in blog posts and discussion forums about “pine mouth,” a condition in which some people eating certain pine nuts began to experience very unpleasant tastes (often described as bitterness or a metallic taste) starting a day or two after eating the nuts, and lasting up to several weeks.

At that time, no one seemed to know what was causing the problem. The US Food & Drug Administration even posted an announcement that it had been receiving inquiries from people who said they had been affected.

A frequently mentioned suspicion at the time was that the culprit was a certain species of pine nuts being exported from China, which, some suggested, had previously been deemed unsuitable for human consumption. However, no one seemed to be able to confirm that that was the actual cause of this particular problem. It was also unclear whether or not there was something peculiar about the affected individuals (some quirk in their genetic makeup, for instance) that made them susceptible while others seemed to be unaffected.

From my cursory internet searches the past couple of days, I get the impression that there hasn’t really been any significant progress made since then in understanding the cause.

I’ve also noticed that the three different brands of pine nuts that I was able to find today (two at Whole Foods, one at Costco) were ALL from China. (And at least one study has suggested that the nuts being sold in the US may contain mixtures of different pine nut types.)

So I’m wondering whether anyone here has heard or read anything further about which pine nuts currently seem to be safe and which should be avoided.

Am I going to need to try to get some pine nuts from one of the Italian specialty grocers, with the hope that they actually have some that are NOT from China?

they may be more expensive, but try to buy California pine nuts, they’re wonderful.

I think you’re okay with pine nuts from anywhere but China.

I’ve never had pine mouth, but I stopped buying non-Italian pine nuts because they didn’t taste right. Even the Italian ones are often rancid or tasteless.

What about CA, robert?

What I really love is to roast and then eat pine nuts. Soooo good.

I’ve had some piñons from New Mexico that were good, but a little different. Actually haven’t seen CA pine nuts, but I lead a sheltered life.

The Italian ones just taste right. With the 30% off sale at Surfas in Culver City, it’s close to a buy two get one free on their packs of Italian pine nuts. Check their refrigerator.

The California pine nuts I’ve had are quite different and to my knowledge not sold commercially.

Up here (Reno/Tahoe) we can buy them raw, in-shell, in bulk but WAY too much work for everyday use.

Where have they gone, I wonder? I’ve noticed California pistachios are also not nearly as available as they were just a few years ago.

I’ve never seen California pine nuts except ones I or someone I know gathered. California produces around a quarter of the pistachios in the world, second only to Iran.

Regarding CA pistachios, follow the water.

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Production was down in 2015, but 2016 was the biggest crop on record.

As for pine nuts specifically, double-whammy of climate change and competition with much lower-cost imports. Pine nuts agriculture is extremely labor intensive. Probably much more so than almonds, which, despite the droughts and climate change challenges, have been gobbling up a lot of California agricultural land in recent years. Apparently, US federal policy has also been biased against pines agriculture in favor of mineral extraction and cattle-grazing for decades.

After more online searches, I’ve found claims that in excess of 80% of the pine nuts are from China.

North Korea is another major producer of pine nuts, but North Korea, of course, is not allowed to sell exports to the US. Makes me wonder whether some of the pine nuts coming into the US are being funneled from North Korea through China. I doubt the regulations there on which pine nuts are acceptable for export are particularly stringent.

Checking in a few more stores last night, I found pine nuts sold by Diamond of California, the nuts company, in a local Publix here in Miami. The package doesn’t say what the source is, but the website says they get their pine nuts from China.

The pine nuts that are traditional in pesto and Italian pastries are from the Mediterranean stone pine, pinus pinea. I don’t believe they have ever been commercially cultivated in California.

When I started making pesto in the 70s, the only pine nuts I ever saw were imported from Italy. Increasing global demand led China to get into the market, selling inferior nuts from other species. Within a few years, they virtually drove Italian nuts out of the US market, and some nuts imported from Italy are actually produced in China. Good pine nuts became so rare and expensive that I switched from making Ligurian-style pesto to Nicoise-style pistou, which uses no nuts.

I used to use pine nuts in my pesto . Now I use walnuts .

Yeah, you might think from the package that Diamond of California’s pine nuts are from California, but they’re from China, just like Costco’s and Trader Joe’s house brands.

A lot of the Pinus koraiensis nuts exported by China in fact come from Siberia and North Korea. Harvesting practices are unsustainable and cause serious damage to some ecosystems.

Well, based on what I’ve heard so far, think I’ll just forego the pine nuts for now. I’ve got some pistachios in the cabinet. Was hoping to make some pignoli amaretti, but maybe will substitute pistachios, if they haven’t gone bad (been in the cabinet a long time – should have kept them in the freezer).

If they’re in an unopened package they might not be rancid.

Shaved almonds are a traditional alternative for cookies.

You’re right. We did a lot of road trips to deserts, and I remember buying pine nuts. It was probably Arizona and Utah.

I can buy them in bulk all over Reno in season.

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