Why you're paying more for pine nuts these days

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Hold on to your pine nuts.
  • Hold on to your pine nuts.

I would not want to be in charge of procurement at the Costco in Johnson County. The store currently doesn't have large bags of pine nuts in stock and after hearing a Costco employee receive a few choice words about that decision, it would seem that hell hath no fury scorned like a woman denied an oversized sack of the key pesto ingredient.

But it is not just in Johnson County that a pine nuts craze is raging. Fickle temperatures and a poor crop in China have led to a dramatic increase in price. The Chicago Tribune looked at the situation domestically and what's going on in China, the main supplier of pine nuts to America. 

In China, a poor crop last year has apparently led to smaller exports and a general lack of supply. While domestically, the pine nut harvest has been weakened by warmer weather patterns. Dayer LeBaron, CEO of wholesalepinenuts.com, explained how pine nuts are harvested:

Pine nuts are slow to develop, he explained. They're the seeds that develop in a pine cone, and it takes 18 months to reach maturity. In the spring, a pine tree releases pollen that pollinates other trees. By early or mid-summer, a cone the size of a small marble is formed. It goes dormant for the fall and winter, then develops into a mature cone, bearing the fruit (pine seeds) the following spring. In the U.S., pine nuts are harvested in fall; in China, it's usually in December.
So you've got a crop that takes a long time to mature with very specific geographic and temperature restraints. And if you get consecutive poor harvests, it takes another 18 months for a new crop to come to market. Combine that with the fact the pine nuts became a trendy ingredient earlier this year and that's how the price has doubled.  

For those looking for a pine nuts substitute in pesto, there's a pretty lively discussion on Serious Eats. Dry roasting walnuts or pecans seems to be the best bet. 

[Image via Flickr: Jason Hutchens]

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