Tiny, Versatile Pine Nut Packs Plenty of Nutrition

The Folklore. Ancient Romans preserved pine nuts in honey, pressed them into wine and used them in sausage. Nicknamed pinoccoli or pinocchi in Italy, this popular nut was the inspiration for Pinocchio’s name, because his nose is shaped like a pine nut.

The Facts. Pine nuts, also known as pignoli, pignolia, pi?on and Indian nuts, are creamy white in color, soft, sweet and chewy. The tiny, torpedo-shaped kernels measure about one-half inch long. They are harvested from the cones of about 20 varieties of pine trees. The Mediterranean or Italian pine nut?most commonly found in the U.S.?comes from the Stone Pine tree (Pinus pinea).

A serving of pine nuts (one ounce or 1/4 cup, about 160 kernels) is a good source of copper, magnesium and zinc. Pine nuts are surpassed only by almonds and hazelnuts in vitamin E content of nuts and supply nearly 20% of the Daily Value for vitamin K, important for blood clotting and bone health.

As with all nuts, the fat is mostly good-for-you mono- and polyunsaturated. Pine nuts also contain phyto-sterols?plant compounds that block cholesterol’s absorption?at twice the level found in walnuts.

The Findings. Research on pine nuts is scant. But experts agree that eating a small handful of any nut regularly can confer health benefits. Eating an ounce of nuts more than five times a week may reduce your risk of heart disease by 25% to 39%, according to Penn State researchers, who reviewed 16 major studies. And at least five ounces of nuts a week might lower risk of type 2 diabetes, according to the Women’s Health Study. Researchers suspect that the high unsaturated fat content of nuts can also steady blood sugar levels and insulin balance. Nuts can even be a diet aid, a satisfying and portable snack, as long as you limit portion size.

The Finer Points. Toasting pine nuts brings out their rich flavor. To toast, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350? F for 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown. Pine nuts are ideal for stuffings, salads and baked goods. Add them to ground meat for meatballs. Their creamy texture makes them an essential ingredient in pesto sauce or you can make a smooth, creamy salad dressing by combining them in a food processor or blender with a little olive oil, herbs and lemon juice or vinegar. Pine nuts are more expensive than most nuts, because those tiny nuts are more labor-intensive to harvest. One pound costs $8 to $14. Lucky for you, a little goes a long way.

?Anastasia Schepers, M.S., R.D.

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