The seed produced by several varieties of pine trees, including the umbrella pine or stone pine (P. pinea). Pine nuts (also called pine seeds) are borne on the scales of pinecones. The trees which produce them grow mainly in Southern Europe, notably in Italy and the south of France, as well as in the Southern United States; some varieties are also found in Spain, Portugal, Siberia, and Australia.
The pine nuts available on markets outside of producing countries are usually quite expensive, since their conditions of cultivation make fertilisation and harvesting difficult. In fact, the seeds are often harvested by hand. Moreover, pine trees only start producing nuts after 25 years and only become commercially viable after 75 years.
The Bible contains mention of pine nuts. They were also cultivated and widely appreciated by the Romans; remains of pine seeds were found among the ruins of Pompeii. Modern-day Italian cuisine still makes use of pine nuts in several dishes. For a long time, pine nuts were an important food for many Indian tribes of Mexico and the Southern United States.
Pine nuts are covered in a hard shell; the kernels are small, elongated, and cream-coloured, with an average length of about ? inch. They have a soft texture and a delicate, sweet flavour, although some varieties have a resinous taste. A large cone can bear close to 100 seeds, some of which are so small that an average of 1500 seeds are required to obtain a pound. When the mature pinecones open up in the fall, the seeds are harvested by hand or by machine. The araucaria (Araucaria araucana) is a variety of pine trees that produces larger nuts, averaging about 1? inch in length and ? inch in width and enclosed in a thin, red-tinged, slightly woody shell. Araucaria nuts are more commonly eaten cooked (they are frequently boiled for 30 minutes). The word "araucaria" is derived from Arauco, the name of the tree's native region in Chile.