Pine nuts are the edible seeds of some species of pine trees. Yellowish white in color and elongated in shape, they are often used in traditional  Italian cuisine.

In the world, there are about 20 species of the genus pinus that produce seeds large enough to justify their cultivation. In other species, pine nuts are too small to be valued as food, even if edible. And the taste is different if we eat Mediterranean pinenuts or others!

In Europe, there are two species of pine that produce large seeds. The best is the domestic pine (pinus pinea) which is also called “pine nut pine”.

Pine nuts trees near our home

 In Italy pinenuts  are called pinoli or “pignoli”,”pinoccoli” or “pinocchi”, hence probably the name of the famous Pinocchio.

Photo by Florencio Rojas on

Pine nuts are rich in protein. They are also a source of dietary fiber. Pine nuts are essential for pesto alla genovese and various other dishes including Nonna’s cake(click here for the recipe) and castagnaccio(click here for the recipe) in Tuscany.

Note that the pine nut is actually a seed and not a nut, botanically speaking. However, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), includes pine nuts on their list of the tree nuts because of their potential of being a food allergen.

The elevated price is partly due to how difficult it is to harvest the seeds. Harvesting includes collecting pine cones  fall from the tree.

Then drying the cones we  extract the pinenuts shells .Third and most complex we have to  extract the seeds from the  outer shell,  and this is often done by hand. Funny to say this is what people do with a stone if they find pinenuts shells (walking in some country area it’s possible !)

Although for traditional recipes such as pesto(click here for the recipe) it is difficult to replace pine nuts, it is always possible to make small variations using cheaper ingredients or ingredients that do not involve allergies. For example to replace pine nuts we can use.


Delicious hazelnuts in chocolate but also on the salad

Pistachios, which of course are still expensive

Sunflower seeds, however tend to give a grayish color to the dish

Pumpkin seeds

Or if you’re a great Michelin Stars chef like Bottura, you can dare also have breadcrumbs. Click here for his recipe.

Anyway Pesto is Pesto !!!