Pine Nut Species + Update: 05/12/10

I have received 40 problem samples (5 countries) and >200 survey responses (21 countries!!) to date. TWENTY ONE COUNTRIES, and I haven’t even reached out to the non-English-speaking ones. While US, Canada and Europe have been on the board for some time, I have recently been receiving new complaints from Australia and New Zealand. Are we on the brink of a global epidemic? WHEN will the suppliers and supermarkets start paying heed to this issue?

It is now week 13 of research. The survey will be available online until Christmas day. I have just begun inspecting the survey information in detail and highlighting important blanks– meaning that I will be contacting many of you soon for clarifications in order to improve the quality of the data. I’ll save the survey talk for another time when I have meaningful things to share about it, because right now I’d first like to have a show-and-tell about the different pine nut species.

The difficulty in avoiding problem pine nuts is that:

  1. There are numerous edible pine species but are all marketed under one label: ‘pine nuts’.
  2. One country of origin produces and exports several different species of pine nuts, but products are simply labeled: e.g. ‘pine nuts from China’.
  3. Chinese pine nuts are frequently sold as mixtures of different species, complicating matters.
  4. Seeds are grouped by size and their varieties mis-labeled by suppliers (intentionally, or unintentionally?), making it difficult to identify.
  5. Morphological (form and structure) variations within species means that some seeds of one species are bound to resemble those of other species.

With my novice skills, I have visually sorted the different species of pine seeds in the samples I have received. I am still sourcing the expertise for the accurate identification of species, but meanwhile I would like to introduce your eyes to the different types of Asian pine nuts that are currently on the market… by photos, of course!

40 problem samples (species referred to from left to right):

  • 40 with the 1st species (p. armandii) [clearly observed]
  • 20 with the 2nd species (p. koraiensis) [clearly observed]
  • 4 with the 3rd species (p. sibirica) [uncertain, looks very much like 1st species but rounder and slightly different shade]
  • 2 with the 4th species (unidentified species) [clearly observed]
  • 2 with the 5th species (unidentified species) [clearly observed]
  • 1 with the 6th species (unidentified species) [picture -> right!]

Once again, here’s a close-up of the species I have seen in all the problem samples so far:

Many people have been asking me about the cause of the problem, whether they can return to eating pine nuts, and which pine nuts they can eat. Each time I receive such emails, I really wished I could answer with 100% certainty, but I CAN’T because I am still in the early stages of researching the problem. What I can say though, is that several pine mouth sufferers from September – October have reported good news: that they’ve eaten Mediterranean pine nuts and are happily pine-mouth-free.

Update (15/12/10): It has been brought to my attention that the long cylindrical worm-like pine nuts shown in this picture below fits better into the description of the Pakistan pine nuts (Chilghoza pine or p. gerardiana). Both species have been on the international market for years with no complaints. They are also easy to visually pick out if they do come in a mixture because they are a lot longer and have a smoother and more yellowish colour than the Chinese pine nuts discussed above. I’m still waiting for p. gerardiana samples for reference, and when I do obtain them, I will upload a new photo!

As for the 4th species found in the samples, it is likely that it is the Italian stone pine. My apologies for the confusion, and I will have this ascertained soon! Pine nut growers of p. gerardiana (Pakistan) and p. pinea (Italy), your help would be very much appreciated!


About grrrrracey

I love to eat, I love to cook, and I love to dig into every mystery about food!
This entry was posted in General Information, Research Updates, The Great Pine Nut Mystery. Bookmark the permalink.

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