Pine nuts are the edible seeds of pines (family Pinaceae, genus Pinus). About 20 species of pine produce seeds large enough to be worth harvesting; in other pines the seeds are also edible, but are too small to be of great value as a human food. In Europe, pine nuts come from the Stone Pine (Pinus pinea), which has been cultivated for its nuts for over 6,000 years, and harvested from wild trees for far longer. The Swiss Pine (Pinus cembra) is also used to a very small extent.
In Asia, two species are widely harvested, Korean Pine (Pinus koraiensis) in northeast Asia (the most important species in international trade), and Chilgoza Pine (Pinus gerardiana) in the western Himalaya. Four other species, Siberian Pine (Pinus sibirica), Siberian Dwarf Pine (Pinus pumila), Chinese White Pine(Pinus armandii) and Lacebark Pine (Pinus bungeana), are also used to a lesser extent. Afghanistan is an important source of pine nuts. In some cultures, it is believed consumption of copious amounts of pine nut may yield aphrodisiac effects.
In North America, the main species are three of the pinyon pines, Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis), Single-leaf Pinyon (Pinus monophylla), and Mexican Pinyon (Pinus cembroides). The other eight pinyon species are used to a small extent, as are Gray Pine (Pinus sabineana), Torrey Pine (Pinus torreyana), Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) and Parry Pinyon (Pinus quadrifolia).
In the United States, pine nuts are mainly harvested by American Indians, particularly the Uto-Aztecan: Shoshone, Paiute and Hopi, and Washoe tribes. Certain treaties negotiated by tribes and laws in Nevada guarantee Native Americans' right to harvest pine nuts
Pine nuts are indeed the seeds of pine trees, and you could plant them, if they haven’t been toasted, which is often the case with those you buy in stores.
They’re tucked inside the pine cones and fall out when the cones open. Not all pines make pine nuts that are nice to eat, and most pine nuts are so small that you could easily not notice them. To make matters worse, when they come out of a pine cone, they’re covered with a hard shell that has to be removed before you see anything recognizable as pine nuts.
Although about 20 species of pine make nuts large enough to be interesting as food, almost all pine nuts used for food come from four varieties: Mexican pine, Colorado pine, Italian stone pine, and Chinese nut pine.
It takes a long time, usually 15 to 25 years, for a pine to start producing nuts, and three times as long before production reaches its maximum. This means pine nuts are often harvested wild, which is part of the reason their cost is so high.
There are some similar edible seeds from other plants that make cones. The juniper seed is well known as the main source of flavoring for gin.
Pine nuts are nutritious, having a high protein content and all sorts of other nutrients. There is an interesting phenomenon, however: After eating pine nuts, some people for days or weeks taste something bitter and metallic. If this should happen to you, don’t worry; it goes away with time.