Why is a pine nut not a nut?

The pine nut is actually a seed with a hard shell, nestled between the scales of certain pine trees, such as the “umbrella pine”. True to their name, pine nuts come from pine cones, specifically, but they're not really nuts; they're seeds. It is perfectly acceptable to call them nuts or seeds. They take about a year and a half to mature, but some varieties under certain weather conditions can take twice that long.

When they are ripe, harvesters pick the pineapples, break them, and separate the nuts from the pineapple fragments by hand. Pine nuts have a second thick shell that should be discarded before eating them, but it can be difficult to remove. The long maturation time and the peeling work result in an expensive finished product. People with a seed allergy may be able to eat pine nuts.

Although pine nuts are technically seeds, the FDA classifies pine nuts as a type of tree nut. The phrase “without nuts” does not mean that pine nuts are not included because pine nuts belong to a different botanical category than nuts. To do this, heat a dry skillet over medium-low heat, then add the pine nuts and shake the pan frequently. As a result, it's best to talk to an allergist to make sure it's safe to eat products that may have been in contact with pine nuts.

However, some people have reported cross-reactivity between pine nuts and peanuts, so a person with a peanut allergy may also have a reaction to pine nuts. Pine nuts don't belong to the same family as other tree nuts, so if you're allergic to pine nuts that doesn't automatically mean you'll be allergic to other nuts and vice versa. The types of pine trees that produce full-size pine nuts are cultivated all over the world, with China, Russia, Mongolia, Korea and Afghanistan being the main producers and exporters. This is because people with a nut allergy may be allergic to another type of tree nut.

Add to all this the fact that it takes more than a decade for a pine tree to start producing pineapples and pine nuts, and you'll have to face a long and arduous process that comes at an equal price. Pine nuts (also called pignoli or pine nuts) are the seeds of pine trees and can be commonly found in pineapples. Many recipes tell you to toast pine nuts before using them, which enhances a deeper nutty flavor. But are pine nuts really nuts and how exactly do they get into your kitchen? There's a lot to know about this mysterious food, from its surprising origins to why it's so expensive.

A person with an allergy to nuts or peanuts may have an allergic reaction to more than one type of nut. A recent review published in the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology indicates that the vast majority of people who are allergic to pine nuts are not allergic to nuts. If an allergy to nuts or peanuts is severe and people are motivated to try pine nuts, a board-certified allergist can evaluate those people using a sharp skin test and, possibly, supervised oral exposure at the doctor's office. Pineapples take many months to produce the seeds that turn into pine nuts, and yet pine nuts aren't ready to be harvested before the pineapples fully bloom.

You might assume that all nuts are of a similar quality, but those in the gourmet section may be sold in smaller quantities and are more expensive.