The Concerning Reason Pine Nuts Are So Expensive

Should you stop putting pine nuts in your pesto?


Most of the pine nuts consumed in the U.S. come from the Korean pine tree, a “keystone species” found primarily in the biodiverse regions of southeastern Russia. “The importance of the Korean pine to this rich ecosystem cannot be overstated,” wrote Jonathan C. Slaght, the project manager for the Russia program of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in the New York Times. “Innumerable animals from chipmunks and Asiatic black bears to nutcrackers and crossbills all depend on the nuts produced by this tree to survive the long winter.”

Wild boars and red deer feed on the highly nutritiouspine cones and nuts, too. Meanwhile, shade from the trees helps camouflage animals like tigers when they stalk their prey.

Currently, demand for pine nuts far outstrips the available supply. That demand has driven up the price, creating an incentive for anyone to go into the forest and rake the floor clean of the pine cones that contain the nuts. Plus, increased logging in the region has made more and more of the forest accessible to pine nut harvesters. Slaght said that in 2014, he came across a group of collectors in the Russian forest that had filled 4,000 sacks with half a million cones in just six weeks.

Obviously, that rate of harvest is unsustainable. If no pine cones are left on the forest floor, the trees will stop propagating and the entire forest could disappear. Plus, scooping up all the pine cones in sight creates a food shortage for the animals that depend on them to survive. This has already started to happen in inhabited areas of Russia’s Primorsky region, which has been besieged by dozens of hungry bears that, in lieu of nuts and berries, have attacked dogs, horses and people.

What Can You Eat Instead?

* Walnuts, cashews or pistachios. I personally don’t like the taste of pecans or almonds in pesto. But toasted walnuts work well, as do pistachios, with cashews pulling up the rear. Plus, those nuts are cultivated on farms, rather than harvested from the wild. Yes, they consume water, but harvesting the nuts won’t destroy an ecosystem. (FYI, walnuts, pistachios and almonds all require about the same amount of water per year to grow.)

* Fewer nuts. If your pesto just won’t taste the same to you without pine nuts, try using less. Don’t grind them into the sauce with the basil and garlic and olive oil. Instead, toast them lightly in a skillet to intensify their flavor, then sprinkle them over your pasta after it’s been tossed with the pesto sauce.

* Nuts grown in the U.S. Pinyon pine trees produce pine nuts and still cover nearly 60,000 square miles of the American Southwest. Jonathan Slaght believes these forests could be sustainably managed to produce more pine nuts for American consumption. Domestic pine nuts are currently being produced in Nevada.Michigan is exploring producing pine nuts, as the same Korean pine that grows in Russia grows in Michigan. NOTE: Imported pine nuts may come from either Russia or China. Harvesters in Russia usually send their nuts to China for processing, so if the label says Made in China, the nuts probably still came from Russia.

* Nuts you grow. It will take time to grow trees big enough to produce enough nuts to meet your needs, but you can do it. Michigan State University offers suggestions to help you get started here.

* No nuts. If you really don’t taste the nuts when you add them to your pesto, leave them out. I’ve found that adding a hearty Parmesan cheese and good olive oil adds much more flavor to my pesto than the nuts do, and I’m happy to skip the extra calories the pine nuts contribute to the dish.

Parsley Pesto with Walnuts Pasta
8 Reasons to Go Nutty Over Pistachios


natasha p
.10 months ago


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Onita Caldwell


Anna Ballinger
Anna Ballinger3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Dave C.
David C3 years ago

noted, thanks

Francis Wells
Francis Wells3 years ago

Any nuts can make a great tasting pesto (you don't even have to use Basil, there are other herbs)

Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

I didn't realize pine nuts were such an important commodity. Will stop using them. Thanks for the information.