Why Are Pine Nuts So Expensive?

Words: Robyn Samuels

Pine nuts – the tiny tear-drop-shaped nuts are so expensive they might make you shed a tear or two. If you’ve ever contemplated making your own basil pesto, you’re better off buying a jar of the saucy green goodness, as they cost peanuts compared to raw pine nuts. Seriously though, why are pine nuts so damn expensive?

why are pine nuts expensive

In 2023, the average wholesale price for pine nuts was reportedly USD 73.40/kg – approximately R1343,32/kg – some online retailers might ask for more, and that’s excluding delivery.

Where do pine nuts come from?

If you’ve ever wondered whether pine nuts are actually derived from pine trees, why yes, they are. Pine nuts, also known as piñón in Spanish, are edible seeds derived from pine cones, produced by pine trees. If you have a pine tree in your backyard and want to experiment with harvesting your own pine nuts, it’s worth noting that not all pine trees produce edible pine nuts. Of the 250 odd species that exist in the world, only 29 different pine tree species produce edible pine nuts.

where do pine nuts come from

Although not indigenous to South Africa, Pinus pinaster (a species of pine tree) grows throughout the Cape and Drakensberg regions.

While pine nuts are popular in Mediterranean cuisine, they are native to the northern hemisphere. Pine nuts are mostly produced in Asia, The United States and certain European regions. To date, China is the world’s leading exporter, followed by Pakistan, Russia and Germany. Pine trees are also grown in South Africa, forming a significant part of the forestry industry. You’re probably wondering why pine nuts are so expensive if they are grown in various parts of the world…

Why are pine nuts so expensive??

Macadamia nuts are historically the most expensive nut in the world – even in South Africa, which is reportedly the world’s largest exporter. However, the price has decreased slightly in the past year as a result of a lowered demand for luxurious items amidst inflation. Pistachio nuts are the second most expensive nut in the world due to the large amounts of water required to harvest them, while peanuts are the cheapest nut.

why are pine nuts expensive

The average wholesale price for pine nuts is currently USD 73.40/kg – approximately R1343,32/kg – some online retailers might ask for more, and that’s excluding delivery. Although widely consumed, pine nuts remain one of the most expensive nuts in the world, why is this you ask? Well, there are a couple of reasons…

Growth & harvesting

Pine trees are what you would call ‘late bloomers’ – they take quite some time to mature; certain pine trees only produce pine cones (containing nuts) after 25-30 years! Besides this, pine trees are also difficult to harvest and involve extremely labour-intensive processes. The cones are first hand-harvested followed by sun-drying and deshelling the cones before the nuts are extracted. Because the cones take a while to process and harvesting is difficult, the nuts are rather expensive.

Limited production areas

They are usually imported from Mediterranean countries, as well as the U.S. and Asia. The importing costs are thus high, as pine nuts need to be transported and preserved properly before being exported to other regions.

Supply vs. demand

Pine nuts are in high demand, more than can be supplied. Similar to macadamia nuts, the cost of pine nuts is often driven by the high demand, especially during peak seasons.

Short shelf life

Due to their high-fat content, pine nuts have a tendency to go rancid, and thus need to be kept in optimal storage, further adding to costs.

The benefits of pine nuts

These nuts are a popular component of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean diets. Native American tribes traditionally consumed pine nuts for their high-fat content during winter months and cold seasons.

why are pine nuts expensive

Pine nuts are a fantastic source of fibre and healthy fats, and are high in vitamin E, magnesium and zinc.

In Chinese tradition, they are used to aid digestion, boost energy and reduce inflammation. Pine nuts are also called ‘vegan oysters’ due to their high source of zinc and magnesium, and are a popular aphrodisiac.

What happens if you eat too many Pine Nuts? You get ‘pine mouth’, that’s what!

Like most nuts, pine nuts have a high oil and fat content; they also have a sweet, buttery and nutty in taste – similar to cashews. While pine nuts are delicious and add flavour to many dishes, these dainty nuts can also lead to one of the worst food experiences, otherwise called ‘pine mouth’.

what is pine mouth

Pine mouth is a phenomenon where an overwhelming metallic taste is produced in the mouth after consuming many pine nuts; in South Africa, it’s called ‘bitterbek’.

The symptoms appear approximately one to three days after eating them and could last for up to two weeks! Scientists have yet to uncover the reasons behind this, it speculated that eating rancid pine nuts could cause this bizarre taste. Another theory is that P. armandii, a Chinese variety of pine nuts causes ‘pine mouth’, but this was disproved by the FDA; the bizarre condition remains a mystery. If you don’t want these nuts to leave a bitter taste in your mouth – check out our nut guide for something equally nutty.

Willing to pay a pretty penny? Try this Lemon Labneh with Tomato, Pine Nuts & Pita.

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