On Saturday I found myself in Waitrose, complaining about the pine nuts. I may even have been wearing something from Boden at the time – I don’t think I’ve ever been so middle class. To even be buying pine nuts marks me out as middle class, but to then find fault with them is a new level entirely. (Next thing you know I’ll be writing angry letters to the Daily Telegraph. My dad already does this.)
The problem with pine nuts is a new one as far as I can tell: we’ve been using them for years in a range of recipes (mostly pastas and so on), and I love them. I usually toast them in a pan before using them, and I always make sure to toast plenty more than I need, knowing that I will snack on the excess while I cook.
Not any more. The pine nuts we’ve been getting recently are much longer than the ones we’ve had before – and they don’t taste nice at all. AND they have a weird texture about them. I thought we’d just bought a few bags that were a bit duff, but then something popped up in my Google Reader that made me realise that it’s not just me: plenty of people have been experiencing the pine nut problem. And it sounds like I’ve been quite lucky – the ones we’ve eaten have been unpleasant, but other people have reported experiencing a horrible, persistent metallic taste in their mouths for days after eating them.
Digging a little deeper, it seems that the issue relates to where the pine nuts come from. The ones we’ve been able to buy at the supermarket recently are from Pakistan. The ones we used to get were from Italy. And there is the problem: pine nuts grow on trees, and there are different kinds of pine trees on different parts of the planet. And so the pine nuts you get from different parts of the world vary in terms of their taste, texture, and the sustainability of the way they are harvested (the Wikipedia page mentions ‘destructive harvesting techniques’ being used in China).
But if life gives you dodgy pine nuts, make some pesto with them. We’ve got two more bags to get through, so I see a lot of pesto in our future. After that, I’m going to be much more careful about which pine nuts I buy: Italian ones all the way. While I was in Waitrose, I had a look round to see if they had other varieties of pine nuts for sale, and found little bags of organic pine nuts. They were expensive, but they were from Italy. I’ll save up…
In the meantime, there’s a lot of discussion online about pine nuts:
- Chowhound posting about Italian vs Chinese pine nuts
- Another case of pine nut mouth at Zoe Selina
- An article in which the Daily Mail is outraged by the pine nut problem (aren’t they outraged about everything?)