Since You Asked: Pricey pine nuts come from 5 areas

Gearing up for my annual pesto-making marathon. I noticed that pine nuts — which have never been cheap — are practically double the price of when I started buying them several years ago. Why are they are so expensive now?

— Anna C., via email

The price of pine nuts has always reflected the labor-intensive process of removing the seeds from the pine cones encapsulating them.

Also called "pignoli" or "pinon," the nuts come from trees growing in China, Italy, Mexico, North Africa and the southwestern United States. Trees in China produce triangular nuts while Italian nuts are slender.

In the past year, poor crops in China and the United States, which some sources blame on climate conditions, pushed up prices. Depending on the source and quantity purchased, pine nuts cost $20 to $25 per pound.

That means pine nuts, compared with other nuts, are something of an investment. Storing them in an airtight container in the freezer for about nine months prevents the nuts' high levels of fats from turning rancid.

Thawing pine nuts is unnecessary, as most recipes call for toasting them before using, which also mellows their faint bitterness. But watch them closely: The high fat content of pine nuts — about 17 grams per ounce — also means they burn easily.

Pine nuts can be toasted in a dry skillet or the oven. Spread them in a single layer on a sheet pan with sides and place in a 325-degree oven for five to six minutes or until they just turn golden.

If you find the price of pine nuts too much to swallow, you could always substitute toasted almonds in your pesto. Using the best-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano will help maintain the original recipe's savoriness and richness.

Send questions to "Since You Asked, A la carte" Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.


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