As small as they are precious, in addition to their unmistakable flavour, they also have important benefits for our organism. Their origins are so ancient that they are remembered in mythology as the seed loved by Bacchus. Pine nuts are the seed of Pinus Pinea, the scientific name for the common pine. These little pearls take 3-4 solar years to ripen inside the pine cones, the caskets that hold them.
Let's discover all the secrets and characteristics of pine nuts.
Pine nuts - whose scientific name is Pinus Pinea, also known as the stone pine or Italian pine - are native to the Mediterranean coast and can now be found throughout most of Europe. The stone pine consists of a main root from which numerous horizontal roots branch off, from which, in turn, vertical roots grow and sink into the ground. Growth is rapid, even in old age. The leaves of the tree have an average life span of 3-4 years, are persistent and made up of flexible, dark green needles, sometimes pointed and rough at the edges.
Fruits of the stone pine
The stone pine is a species in which both male and female reproductive organs coexist. The fruits of Pinus Pinea are the pine cones, which are 8-15 cm long. Solitary or in pairs, the cones ripen and open to release their seeds, the so-called pine kernels, after 3-4 solar years.
Production and processing
Cones are harvested from early autumn until early summer. Today it is still mostly done in the traditional way, although increasingly advanced agricultural equipment, used in low-density forests that effectively allow the passage of equipment, is beginning to spread considerably. Pine nut processing from pine cones consists of two main stages:
1) OBTAINING THE RAW ALMOND
The steps to obtain the raw almond, i.e. the pine kernel that has been shelled but still has some impurities, are as follows:
Preheating of whole cones: the whole cones are taken to a preheating area where they are dried in a current of hot air.
Crushing: the hot cones are then coarsely crushed, which breaks off the woody scales from the central core and releases the inner shell containing the pine kernel.
Analysis of pine nuts in shell: the ground product is analysed mechanically in order to separate the empty scales, chaff, cores and dust from the shell containing the pine kernel.
Heating of pine nuts in shell: the pine kernels in shell are heated in a rotary oven with air at a temperature of 50-60 °C for 5-6 minutes.
Opening of the shells: the shells are then opened by means of a beating machine (opening 95% of the shells) and mechanical crushing of the shells (remaining 5%).
Sorting of the raw pine nuts: The raw pine kernels are passed through vibrating sieves in order to definitively separate the broken shells.
Intermediate drying of shelled pine nuts: the pine kernels remain in heated ovens for 5-6 hours at a temperature of 40-50 °C to remove excess moisture.
Brushing: brushing and ventilation are carried out to obtain the raw almond.
2) OBTAINING THE FINISHED PRODUCT To purify the pine kernels and remove impurities, the raw almond undergoes a series of operations:
Sorting: the pine kernels are passed through automatic sorters to separate any remaining shell.
Washing: The pine kernels are immersed in water to remove any impurities.
Final drying of the pine nuts: After washing, the pine kernels are dried overnight at a temperature of 40-65°C.
Brushing: using rotating brushes, the last remnants of skin are removed from the pine nuts.
Before being packaged, the finished product undergoes a careful quality selection process in which pine nuts conforming to marketing standards are separated from those with abnormal colouring or rotting.
Countries of production and varieties of pine nuts
The stone pine is a widespread species in areas with a Mediterranean climate, although it is now grown in all countries of the world. China is the world's leading producer, followed by North Korea, Pakistan and Afghanistan. As for the Mediterranean pine nut, Italy takes the podium.
Numerous varieties with different prices can be found on the market. The main ones are as follows:
Pinus pinea: pine kernels of European origin are white in colour, typical of Mediterranean cuisine (Spain, Italy, South of France, Greece), highly sought after, superior in quality and therefore have a higher price.
Pinus sibirica: this is a species widespread in central-southern Siberia and in the extreme east of Russia; this type of pine kernels are not treated thanks to the cold and dry environment (25°/-35°). They are rather small and roundish pine kernels, but are considered among Siberians to be a health food of high rank.
Pinus Koraiensis: pine kernels of Chinese origin, smaller and darker in colour, make up the largest part of the world's supply of pine kernels.
Pinus Gerardiana: collected from forests in Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of northern India, they are longer and thinner in shape.
Pinus edulis, Pinus monophylla and others: these produce pine kernels, also known as pinyons, which were important both economically and culturally for the Native American tribes of the Southwest (Colorado, New Mexico and northern Mexico).
Pinus cembra: Swiss pine nuts found in the mountains of Central Europe.
Pinus armandii: a valuable species in south-eastern China.
Pine nuts nutritional values
Pine nuts, like all dried fruit and oilseeds, are a real energy supplement and a high source of good fatty acids, especially polyunsaturated (around 57% of the lipid fraction). They are highly satiating and contain plant sterols (236mg per 100g of product) which act on the reabsorption of cholesterol levels in the intestine, thus helping to regulate circulating cholesterol levels. And let's not forget that pine nuts are a source of vegetable proteins that help in the growth and maintenance of muscle mass and normal bones.
The pine tree was considered a tree of divine significance. The tree was celebrated by Mediterranean peoples, including the Etruscans, Greeks, Celts and Romans. It is said that a young inhabitant named Atys, with a celebrated beauty, managed to conquer the goddess Cybele, becoming her passionate lover. The King of Pessinunte (ancient kingdom of Midas), convinced that the boy had been subjugated, decided to separate him from the Goddess, offering him his own daughter in marriage. Cybele flew into a rage and manifested herself on the day of the wedding by playing Pan's flute, whose melody drove all the guests mad and Atys himself fatally stabbed himself with a knife. Zeus, moved to pity the event, decided to turn him into an evergreen pine tree, thus giving him eternity.
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