The pine tree is one of the most familiar trees, both in Europe and North America, but it is mainly in the Mediterranean area where it obtains its highest importance of production and consumption. The nuts are found inside the pine cone.
Once appreciated by the Greeks and Romans, the pine kernel, or pine nut, is an edible nut with an exquisite flavor and high protein content. The Roman Legions carried pine kernels as provisions, and all over Europe it is used as a culinary ingredient in the preparation of meat, fish and vegetable dishes, as well as in the confectionery industry in chocolates and other delicacies.
China, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey and Mongolia are the principal producing countries of pine kernels. Also called Indian nut, pinon, pinoli and pignolia, the pine nut is marketed in shelled form. There are two main varieties. The Mediterranean or Italian pine nut is from the stone pine. It is torpedo-shaped, has a light delicate flavor and is the more expensive of the two. The stronger flavored Chinese pine nut is shaped like a squat triangle. Its pungent flavor can easily overpower some foods.