Long time readers may recall that there is a great food store on Route 44 Quatros that was selling Pignoli AKA pine nuts last year from China that caused a metallic mouth disease. The reader that brought it to my attention sent the long but interesting article below for pine nut nuts. My regular readers may choose to skip this article as the pine trees around here don’t have pine nuts that are big enough to eat.
This link to Wikipedia gives an interesting history of pine nuts.
Pine Nuts Rate Foie Gras Prices as Bugs to Drought Cut Harvests
French gourmets face a quandry: spend that last euro on foie gras or on a package of pine nuts.
The global harvest of the nuts — a key ingredient in classic Italian pesto sauce which graced prehistoric diets and was considered an aphrodisiac in ancient Rome — fell an estimated 47 percent last year, boosting prices to the highest in more than a decade. That’s prompting manufacturers and home preparers to substitute cheaper cashews or walnuts.
“Consumers will start treating them more like a luxury item, something of a tree-produced caviar,” said Leonid Sharashkin, pine-nut forestry adviser to Salem, Missouri-based Pinenut.com, which harvests and sells wild crops.
The crop in China, the biggest shipper, fell 90 percent last year, while yields dropped 63 percent in the Mediterranean region, the International Nut & Dried Fruit Council estimates. U.S. import prices for shelled pine nuts were the highest in at least two decades in 2012, while German buyers in November paid the most for Chinese nuts since at least 1998, trade data show.
French retailer Monoprix SA sells the nuts online starting at 78.40 euros ($103) a kilogram (2.2 pounds), more expensive than foie gras, 20-month-cured Parma ham or lumpfish eggs.
Logging, deforestation, fire and pests have reduced pine stands in China, Russia and the U.S. Yield swings mean good pine-nut years alternate with bad ones, said Sven Mutke, a researcher at Madrid-based forest research center INIA-Cifor.
“Pine nuts, being for the most part a product of wild ecosystems, follow the sad fate of their forests,” Sharashkin said. “There’s a global shortage.”
Pine-nut remains have been found in the ruins of Pompeii. Large stone-pine forests were planted in Italy after Papal decrees, including one in 1666 near Fregene, north of Rome, which still exists, according to the FAO. The nuts are of “exceptional” nutritional value, rich in protein, unsaturated fats and amino acids essential to human growth, the FAO says.
The classic Pesto Genovese recipe calls for crushed fresh basil leaves, olive oil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese.
“They’re irreplaceable,” said chef Giorgio Locatelli, who uses about 75 kilograms of the nuts a year in dishes such as caponata, a Sicilian eggplant salad, at his London restaurant Locanda Locatelli. “We’ll have to wait and hope for a more favorable harvest that brings the price down again.”
Production was “almost zero” in Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces in China’s northeast, said Irene Girones, project coordinator at the Reus, Spain-based INC.
Destructive harvesting may have hurt China’s crop. Hundreds of Korean pines in a reserve in the country’s north were damaged in seven years of nut gathering, and yields fell “tremendously” after two years, a 2010 study led by Lina Tang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences showed.
Stone pines from Turkey to Portugal have been damaged by the western conifer seed bug. The Mediterranean region’s crop probably fell to 905 tons last year from 2,445 tons in 2011 because of the bug, the INC said. The council had previously forecast a pine-nut harvest of 2,700 tons.
Native to the western U.S., the 2-centimeter (0.8-inch) bug, which dines on pine cones, was first found in Italy in 1999, since spreading to Turkey in 2009 and Portugal in 2010.
It feeds on pine nuts by piercing cones and digesting the developing seeds. Italian research suggests feeding by the insect on stone pines caused deterioration for 50 percent of first-year pine cones and 65 percent for second-year cones.
“Supply of pine nuts is almost assured,” Sharashkin said. “The only question is the price.”