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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 said...as 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 origin..is 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.

                    2. I have been eating pine nuts all my life and recently experienced the horrible bitter taste in my mouth anytime I eat anything. This happened (twice!) after eating pine nuts from China. One batch I bought at Trader Joe's and one from my local gourmet market. Although they taste pretty much the same, the taste disturbance from the nuts from china is DEFINITELY worth paying the extra $$ for nuts from Italy. Trust me! It doesn't happen to everyone, but some people are susceptible to it. You never know if it will happen to you, or, GASP, one of your dinner guests! It doesn't come on right away, but takes a1-3 days and lasts about a week. It's terrible.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: kimmiek

                        Totally agree.I had pine mouth for 2 weeks with the ones from China. It is terrible and it doesn't happen to everyone. The first time it happened to me were from a batch from TJ. My friend ate them too and she didn't get the bitter taste from it. There is another blog on here about it.

                        1. re: kimmiek

                          In the past 2 years I have been experiencing the same reaction when I use pine nuts, usually when I harvest my basil and make pesto. I clearly know that it is a result of using Chinese pine nuts. You are right on target with your description of what and when it happens and how long it lasts. It is usually 2 to 3 weeks before the awful taste at the back of my tongue goes away. I looked this up on MedMD after the initial reaction a couple of years ago. Their explanation was that it was from eating pine nuts, especially those from CHINA! I used to be able to buy Italian pine nuts from Trader Joes but now they only sell the ones from China. I'm looking for a new source!

                          1. re: jaabee

                            Walnuts make a good substitute with practice.

                            Not all of the Asian pine nuts are resinous.I now,with permission eat a few prior to leaving the store and if resinous receive a prompt refund.I have two places I do this without any problem at all after five or six years.It's about a 40% return rate.

                            1. re: jaabee

                              Let me know if you find an italian pine nut source. I haven't had them since my awful experience. Tasting to try can leave me with a bitter taste for 2 weeks. Not worth the try to me.

                              1. re: jklkjklkj

                                Two sources for European,Italian pine nuts.........expect to pay in the neighborhood of $40.00 per pound.You can dilute,sub out with walnuts,Persian and Black up to 60% in most recipes,toasted or not.



                                1. re: lcool

                                  Thank you. They would be worth the price.

                                  1. re: lcool

                                    ...You can dilute,sub out with walnuts,...
                                    Unless you think walnuts taste nasty, as Zimmern and I do.

                                    1. re: al b. darned

                                      I can substitute but pine nuts are a true treat.

                                      1. re: al b. darned

                                        No offense, but I'd never use Zimmern as an arbiter of what tastes good.

                              2. I would have said the european ones have a better flavor, but the chinese were ok... until now. I grew up eating pine nuts and never had any trouble with them until last weekend when I made pesto with Costco pine nuts from China. Within a couple of days I have developed a horrible, bitter taste in the back of my mouth, which really kicks in any time I eat. I finally googled my symptoms only to discover all kinds of people have experienced the same thing after eating pine nuts from China! It even has a name, "Pine Mouth", which in my opinion that is being generous and does not begind to describe the foulsomeness of the taste. This alone will prevent me from ever buying chinese pine nuts again. It honestly is not worth it as it tastes like you are sucking on a wad of tin foil soaked in vinegar. Apparently it lasts for a few days too. And then I also had to chuck my pesto, which, incidentally, was delicious (the tin foil thing takes a couple of days to develop). So, there you have it... quite a difference indeed!

                                1. Ok.. time to gloat. Forgive me in advance but I live in southern Utah and have twenty or so pinons on my property. Had a very wet year and all of them are pregnant with lil cones right now. I expect to gather 10 or 15 gallons.
                                  My favorite pine nut recipe follows:
                                  Butter in a pan melted
                                  add chopped onion
                                  do the onion cooking thing
                                  mix in raw rice and chicken broth
                                  do the rice cooking thing

                                  in separate "dry" pan add pint nuts over medium fire
                                  keep moving them around... under no circumstances stop
                                  They will begin to sweat a little oil and smell a little like popcorn
                                  watch real close until they brown.. do not burn!
                                  set aside

                                  when rice is done mix in pine nuts and some melted butter and serve hot with your fav shrimp dish

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: camper

                                    Yum. Jealous on the totally-locavore end of things, of course, but what a fine embarrassment of riches to deal with. Do you keep the extras in the fridge? Freezer (I know, it does change the texture)? Thanks for the great recipe, too! I hope this year was just as plentiful for you.


                                    Jack in Ann Arbor

                                  2. They taste the same but the Chinese variety can give a very bitter taste a few days AFTER eating them. It ruins the taste of anything you eat for up to 2 weks. So......stick with the Italian variety.

                                    1. I just don't want to put anything that came from China in my mouth, considering the recent debacles. At least not knowingly.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: silkenpaw

                                        I live in Dubai where we import 99.99% of what we eat. Most produce is imported either from Australia, Europe or Iran and Oman, but we do on occasions find produce from China.

                                        I deliberately avoid buying food from China whenever possible because of the pollution issue. China has extroardinary pollution problems, the scale which most of us don't really realize, and even Fuchsia Dunlop realized this a few years back when on a visit in China she noted that she was eating food coming out of heavily polluted lakes and fields next to factories. Combine this with the entire logistics of harvesting, storing and transporting the food. China's safety record is not guaranteed.

                                        The only food item I buy from China is garlic and only because they have a monopoly on the garlic market in Dubai.

                                        1. re: silkenpaw

                                          I've noticed that an inceasing number of our frozen vegetables come stamped "product of China". It takes me aback a bit, even trying to comprehend the economics of growing (e.g., Stop and Shop red, yellow and green pepper strips) fresh produce, picking it, preparing it and flash freezing it, and then shipping it all the way to the east coast of the US to be sold for $1 for a 1 lb. bag. I have not have any adverse effects from using any of them so far as I can tell. I also shop in the Asian supermarket when I can.

                                          And I completely enjoyed the food that we had during the couple of weeks that we spent in China a few years ago and would gladdly go back again.

                                        2. Old question, but what the heck...My husband and a number of friends have been to China several times and from what they tell me they have observed as to trash, sanitation (lack thereof), working conditions...plus of course what has happened recently with Chinese products - all the contamination and toxins - no thanks! Sometimes it really is worth paying more. On top of that I had a whopping case of Pine Nut Mouth and since then, only Mediterranean pine nuts for me.

                                          1. Pine nuts ruined my Thanksgiving. On Monday, I bought some to add to sauteed chanterelles and nibbled a few. On Tuesday things started to taste funny. By Wednesday, everything was unbearably bitter, even creme anglaise and water. This was a problem because I was doing most of the cooking for Thanksgiving dinner and I couldn't even tell whether something was salted properly. I recruited tasters from the guests to guide me, but it was an ordeal for me to eat anything.

                                            A friend posted photos of Mediterranean and Chinese pine nuts next to each other, and while the source wasn't listed where I got mine, they were definitely the Chinese:


                                            1. I recently purchased Good Sense pine nuts from Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Good-Sense-Pine...

                                              The packaging for these pine nuts say, "Product of China, Portugal, Italy, Pakistan, Spain, or Russia." I'm not sure of the origins of the pine nuts in my batch, but they are good. I have eaten them raw, and toasted them and used them in salads, pasta dishes, and pesto. No rancid or bitter tastes.

                                              I like the four smaller packages rather than one big one because they are easier to store in my freezer. The packaging is sturdy and the Zip-Loc style re-sealable bag is handy. No, they're not a bargain, but you get what you pay for. IMO, this is a fair price. I'll buy these again.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: al b. darned

                                                Edit: They *are* a relative bargain at $16/lb.

                                                1. re: al b. darned

                                                  Console your self with "they're half price"......if 100% Italian the price hits $35.00 to $40.00 lb

                                              2. When in doubt, why not try? It isn't like it will be expensive to try it yourself. I have also heard similar discussion about Chinese chestnuts and French chestnuts. No one will know the answer better than yourself.


                                                6 Replies
                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                  The issue is that I already know that I react to the Chinese variety. It was a horrible experience. Can you imagine the torture it was for a foodie to experience the taste of metal for everything put in the mouth? I will only use Italian or Mediterranean pine nuts.

                                                  1. re: jklkjklkj

                                                    <The issue is that I already know that I react to the Chinese variety>

                                                    Exactly, only you know if you react to the Chinese variety. I doubt most people here can predict the answer for you.

                                                    <Can you imagine the torture it was for a foodie to experience the taste of metal for everything put in the mouth?>

                                                    But that is the thing. It wasn't a torture for me. I can eat the Chinese version just fine and so do many others -- foodies or not.

                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                      Yes, you are lucky. I can get that variety in my local grocery store.

                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                        Circa 2006,2007,2008 and 2009 the complaint was wide spread.
                                                        Somewhere along the line the cultivating,harvesting practices changed,improved. As did the age and variety of pine.I won't say I can pick Asian from European in a blind taste test 100% of the time.But as of this past spring,working with a broker,exporter,importer I only missed on two or three samples,of 30.Most was a subtle difference.They are trying,it is a problem that still needs a bit more ??? thoughtful,quality control.

                                                        1. re: lcool

                                                          Not sure my tastebuds could be so discerning. For me the after effect is what matters. Im the only one in the family that gets the metallic reaction.

                                                          1. re: jklkjklkj

                                                            I split a huge order with six others.Four of the seven are right there with you.