Monday, July 19, 2010

The Pinhão - Brazil's "Pine nut on steroids"

The pine nut, which is the fruit of a pine tree hidden inside a woody structure known as a pine cone, is one of the oldest known foods of the human species. Anthropological studies show that the Stone Pine tree has been cultivated for its seeds (pine nuts) for at least 6,000 years, and that pine nuts have been harvested from wild trees for much, much longer. In North America, cultivation and harvest of pine nuts from the pinyon family of pines most likely goes back just as far, though the anthropological track record is not as easy to prove as it is in Europe.

In contemporary North American and European cuisines there is extensive use of the pine nut. Without pignoli (pine nut in Italian) is it impossible to make a true pesto sauce. In Greece and the Middle East pine nuts are an important ingredient in the filling for baklava. There is wide use of pine nuts in the traditional Native American cooking of the Southwestern USA, and in the cuisine of Mexico, where pine nuts are used in some recipes for chiles en nogada, an iconic Mexican recipe.

Pine nuts are important in Brazilian cuisine too, and have been cultivated and eaten since long before the arrival of Europeans in 1500. However, the pine nut of Brazilian cooking (pinhão in Portuguese) is not from the same family of trees as European and North American pine nuts. It it harvested from the Araucaria pine, which is a large and geographically widely-dispersed family of pine-like trees of the Southern Hemisphere. Member of this family which have been successfully transplanted to the Northern Hemisphere include the Norfolk Island Pine and the Monkey Puzzle Tree.


Pine nuts from Araucarias dwarf their Northern Hemisphere cousins. Whereas Northern Hemisphere pine nuts range up to about 1/2" in size, the pinhão is normally between 2 and 3 inches long. It is also a rich, dark brown color as opposed to the light beige of the Northern Hemisphere pine nut. And the taste of the pine nut is sharper and stronger south of the Equator too.

Tremendous quantities of pinhões (the plural of pinhão) are consumed every years in Brazil, mostly in the Southern and Southeastern regions where the Araucaria are native and grow rapidly. Latest figures show an annual harvest of about 4,300 tons of seeds. In Lages, a city in the southern state of Santa Catarina, there is an annual  pinhão festival, the Festa Nacional do Pinhão, featuring all kinds of foods cooked with pinhões as well as pinhão wine.

In the next few posts on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide some recipes for dishes featuring pinhões. Most of them can very successfully be made substituting Northern Hemisphere pine nuts. Although the dish will not look the same due to the difference in size and color of the pine nuts, the taste will be very similar.

21 comments:

  1. where can I buy pinhao online?
    thanks,

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  2. I'm actually not sure, but I can do some research for you. It would help to know hwere you are for shipping purposes. Brazil? USA? Let me know....James

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  3. I would be happy to exchange anything that I dont't know from your country , and I would send anything from Brasil, fruits, vegs, nuts, etc.There's so many things that you people don't know, hundreds of fruits, vegs,etc.
    Frank
    jfmbello@hotmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  4. is there any place in the usa where whe can buy it???
    carolbortolon@hotmail.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know of anyplace specific that you can. I checked several online Brazilian grocery stores and nut and seed stores without luck. We can't buy them even in the part of Brazil I live in, so I think they're available only quite regionally.
      JAMES

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  5. here: http://www.angeloni.com.br/super/busca?q=pinhao

    and here: http://produto.mercadolivre.com.br/MLB-235546968-1kg-de-sementes-do-saboroso-pinho-por-apenas-r700-_JM

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  6. I recently acquired about a pound of pinhoa nuts and learned they must be boiled to get the husk off and use them. Can anyone tell me how long to boil them? Thank you. Linda

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    Replies
    1. Hey Linda, where did you get them? I live in California and can't find them anywhere.
      You should boil them in a pressure cooker for about 40 min.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. I also just cook them without anything else in a pan until you get them to be dark and somewhat black.

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    4. Well I just boil it in an open pot until you can see some of them with a crack, showing the inside.
      (I accidentally deleted this before)

      Delete
  7. Hi Linda, where did you get them? I live in California and can't find them anywhere.
    You should boil them in a pressure cooker for about 40 min.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I want to buy too, where, please????

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  9. Hi i would like to know what should i do to buy pinhao from u...tks

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  10. Thanks for explanations. Just bought pinhao nuts in the supermarket here in Rio and was wondering what it is. Araucaria it is, but tastes quite different from the usual pine nuts we are used to in Europe.

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  11. I grew up in the south of Brazil and loved Pinhao! I wish I could buy it here now that I live in the US. It was a great delicacy in (their) winter.

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    Replies
    1. Some people I know try to bring it here without luck. i don't exactly know why they don't want it in america but sometimes people are successful and I get to have some, like right now. (Soooo good)

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  15. A friend just brought me back pinhaos from Joinville Brazil. They were able to bring them on the plane with them. I snipped the pointed part off (makes it easier to shell & the salt to get in). I covered them with water in a pressure cooker, added 1-2 TBLS salt and cooked for 40 min. They are delicious, just as I remember them as a child. Search Como Cozinhar Pinhaos for instructions and recipes.

    ReplyDelete