What are pine nuts?

Pine nuts are the edible seeds collected from pine trees grown in Europe, the USA and Asia. They are used as ingredients in some mainstream food products such as pesto sauce and in some products sold in health food shops.

If you have any adverse reactions to pine nuts, tell your GP. If they suspect an allergy, it is likely you will be referred to an allergy clinic.

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What is a food allergy?

Food allergies happen when your immune system reacts inappropriately to a food.

The first stage of the process is called sensitisation, when your immune system’s “memory” registers the food as a threat and produces antibodies. Next time you eat that food, these antibodies may connect with proteins in the food and trigger the release of certain substances in the body, such as histamine. This results in an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of a food allergy

The symptoms of a food allergy can come on quickly. These may include nettle rash (otherwise known as hives or urticaria) anywhere on the body, or a tingling or itchy feeling in the mouth.

 

The term for this more serious form of allergy is anaphylaxis. In extreme cases there could be a dramatic fall in blood pressure (anaphylactic shock). The person may become weak and floppy and may have a sense of something terrible happening. This may lead to collapse and unconsciousness. On rare occasions, food allergy can be fatal.

More serious symptoms of a food allergy may include:
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Swelling in the throat and/or mouth
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Difficulty breathing
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Wheeze or asthma
  • right_arrow_orange_icon Severe abdominal pain and recurrent vomiting

Do you need to avoid other nuts?

Pine nuts are in a different botanical category to tree nuts such as walnuts, Brazil nuts and cashews, and most people with pine nut allergy can eat these other nuts and vice versa. If you are allergic to pine nuts, it is highly unlikely that you need to avoid other nuts, but discuss this with your doctor if you have any concerns.

Which foods contain pine nuts?

Pine nuts are often found in pesto sauce. They’re also sometimes used in sandwiches, cakes, bread, salads, pizzas, biscuits, confectionery and ice cream.

Pine nuts are sold in health food stores and supermarkets. They are widely used in in countries where they are harvested commercially, such as Spain, Italy and Morocco, as well as the USA.

Pine nuts can turn up in products where you don’t expect them. We have seen them as ingredients in a lentil and mint lamb leg joint, a butternut squash rolled pork loin, vegan chocolate tortes, and a Christmas pudding. They’re also sometimes included in packets of mixed seeds.

If you are allergic to pine nuts, we strongly advise you to read food labels carefully and be direct when talking to catering staff. Be explicit and tell people you have to avoid pine nuts and pine kernels. The phrase “nut free” does not necessarily mean there are no pine nuts included because pine nuts are in a different botanical category to tree nuts.

Under the food information regulations, any of 14 allergens must be highlighted in the ingredient list when they are present in pre-packed food. Pine nuts are not among those 14 so you will not see them highlighted.

The use of pine nut oil is rare. It is golden coloured and can be used for making salad dressings and drizzling on to dried or grilled meats.

 

Other names for pine nuts to look out for

The pine nut is known by a variety of other names including pine kernels, pinon, Indian nut, pignoli and pignolia.

 

‘Pine mouth’ syndrome

People have reported experiencing a metallic or bitter taste within 48 hours of eating pine nuts. This can last for up to two weeks. Doctors are uncertain what causes pine mouth syndrome but do not believe it is harmful. Pine mouth is not thought to be an allergic reaction.

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