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Nov 19, 2007 11:39 AM

Chinese vs Italian Pine Nuts (pignoli)..big price difference. Taste difference?

The Italian ones are quite expensive in the Manhattan shops I visited recently. (Fairway; Buon Italia, etc) Chinese are available for much less per pound. Is there any reason to continue buying the more pricey, Italian nuts? I use these mostly in salads (toasted) and vegetable dishes. (And in pesto in the summer).

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    1. how about korean pine nuts? I know koreans eat them, as I have had them in a few korean applications. I'm sure they are cheaper than their italian counterpart...however make sure they are from Korea and not from China if you are worried

      1. I read someplace that the Asian variety is a different species of pine, and that the seeds are some what different. If I'm not mistaken the Asian ones are more triangular. I don't recall what was mentioned with regard to flavor. Most of us who only use them occasionally probably couldn't tell the difference.

        The difference in cost may be due to the labor cost in harvesting and separating seeds from the cones. The Wiki article claims the current Chinese harvesting method is destructive to the trees, but I can't confirm that (same would go for the question of contamination). There is also an American crop, though that is much smaller.


        1. There is a huge difference in freshness, taste and texture. The Italian Pine Nuts are far superior. I buy them at Fairway or Sahadi, and keep them in a sealed jar in the freezer, so they do not go rancid, and there is no waste..

          Italy is a fairly reliable source of quality products, as is France.

          That being said, some of the comments here about health risks are a bit over the top. Remember, the contaminated organic spinach came from California, not some third world country.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Fleur

            Thanks, Fleur..I did want to know about taste and texture. After all, it is not like I buy them every week so I will continue with the Italian ones..I think Fairway stocks both..

            1. re: erica

              Some years ago, before we started thinking about the country of origin issues, I tasted both at the Italian market I used to shop at, and preferred the taste of the Chinese. They seemed to be more "piney", but not in a Christmas tree way. I appreciated that they were 1/3 the price, but I honestly did prefer the taste of the Chinese.

              That others have said, freshness is key for any high-oil nut. An Italian market tends to turn the stock over pretty quickly, as does TJ's.

            2. re: Fleur

              Wouldn't freshness depend more on the supply chain than the source? It is possible that the expensive European ones are treated more carefully, but they could also end up sitting on the shelf longer. It may be best, if you get the Asian ones, to get them from a large Asian grocery with high turnover (not that you can always determine that).

              I've been getting the toasted ones that Trader Joe's sells, and keep them in the fridge or freezer. The TJ package doesn't specify the country of origin, though based on the price, I suspect they are Asian.

              1. re: paulj

                I thought packages of imported foods had to state the country of it possible that they are from the US??

                1. re: paulj

                  Our TJs do list the country of origin on their pine nuts, and they are from China. I prefer the Italian.

                  1. re: Richard 16

                    How does the taste of the two differ? I've had both, but not at the same time, so can't compare them.

                    1. re: paulj

                      When I first tried the ones from China, I did not realize that was where they were from. I wasn't doing a direct comparison; they just didn't seem quite as, well, full-bodied as previous times. Not at all bad -- just not as strong. Since they are cheaper the next time I went to TJs (my favorite sushi bar, Yoshi's, is in the same strip mall, so I go to both fairly often...) and bought two bags.

                      It hadn't occured to me to check the country of origin since I didn't even realize China produced pine nuts. Bad on my part -- because of China's absolutely worst human rights record I don't buy their stuff unless absolutely necessary. Åt some point at home I happened to read the bag and found out. Oh well -- it's not as if TJs' is the only place to get them.

                    2. re: Richard 16

                      I just looked. There were 3 'types' of pine nuts at my TJs. 'regular' and dry toasted did not say anything about country of origin. 'organic' was marked 'from China'. Nut shape was the same on all.


                2. I don't think country of origin matters, it is more the shape and also freshness. The short and stout triangular ones are inferior quality to the long slim ones. Buy long slim. They are more expensive than the short ones. The price of pine-nuts has risen lately, I noticed. The pine nuts in my house right now are long slim and beautiful and from Pakistan and they were quite a bit cheaper than the Turkish ones next to them at the grocery.

                  You guys should check out a Middle Eastern market they may be high quality and cheaper.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: luckyfatima

                    Good tip..I will look for the Middle Eastern ones, long and slim!, in Kalyustan in Manhattan, where I live.

                    Maybe we should start a thread asking how people use them!

                    1. re: luckyfatima

                      What do you mean by 'inferior quality'? I'm assuming different shaped seeds come from different pine species, not just selected based on shape or 'quality'. Most of us are still in the dark as to how the two differ in taste.

                      1. re: paulj

                        paul j: i have a cookbook as a reference, Anissa Helou's Lebanese cuisine. she says: the meditarranean pine nuts are from pinus pinea and are the finest. they have a long thin oval shape. the rounder, shorter and less tasty ones are the ones from N. America, China, and Korea. (p. edulis, p. monophylla, p. cembrodes, and p. korainsis)...she goes on to say the latter are more widely available and less expensive, i guess cuz of being less "fine," which i interpret as inferior quality. So I guess country of origin, or rather region of origin does matter after all. But either way the long skinny ones are better. that is common knowledge in Mid-East cooking, and you know a restaurant is being cheap-o when they serve stuff with the short triangle ones.

                        1. re: luckyfatima

                          So getting away from the China-phobia issues, what the OP is asking - what is the difference in taste between P pinea (stone pine) and P korainsis (Korean pine), that is between the small, elongated nuts, and the larger triangular ones.

                          It is not surprising that in Meditarranian use, the locally grown and bred species is preferred, and regarded as 'finest' or 'tastiest' (a vague term). The wiki article claims it is highest in protein.

                          But I wonder if those differences really matter to most of us Americans who only use pine nuts as a garnish, or pounded with strong flavors like basil, garlic and olive oil. Back in the 70's when pesto became fashionable among the 'health food' fans, many sought less expensive alternatives like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or walnuts.


                        2. re: paulj

                          The Asian nuts are piney/resiny to my taste, there's no surprise at all where they come from. The Mediterranean variety doesn't make me think "pine tree" at all, on the other hand.. They have a much sweeter, generally "nutty" flavor. I don't think they're interchangeable at all - Asian pine nuts in Italian Christmas cookies or tossed over hummous would be kind of gross to me, the Med variety would be sweetly insipid in a Chiense dish like diced chicken with pine nuts or probably even more so Korean dishes which tend to be on the, er, "robust" side in my limited experience...

                          FWIW, historically, Europeans considered Portugal to be the best source of the Mediterranean variety, I have no idea whose pine nuts the Middle Eastern cultures prized... but these days I imagine things are confused enough that one rarely knows where they were grown when buying other than the basic distinction of shape. In this case, "product of" is meaningless on the package without a specific reference to source of the contents of said "product.)

                          1. re: MikeG

                            I grew up on the italian ones in middle eastern food, they're expensive and I can tell the difference. I dislike the small triangular ones, which I now know are chinese but due to price I use them because I can't afford to dish out tons of money on the italian one.