pine nut or piñon (pĭnˈyən, pēˈnyōn) [key], edible seed of various species of pine trees. Among the North American species that bear such edible seeds are the nut pines or piñons, Pinus edulis and P. monophylla, and the Digger pine, P. sabiniana, named after the Diggers of California. The nuts have a thin red-brown shell and range in size from about 3/4 in. (1.91 cm) to about 11/2 in. (3.75 cm). Pine nuts, or Indian nuts, were an important food for some early Native Americans and are still harvested in quantity both for food and for trading. They are picked from the ground, taken from squirrel caches, or extracted by hand from the cones. Some pine stands are in danger of depletion because insufficient seeds are left for reproduction. Pignolia nuts are the seeds of P. pinea of S Europe, where they are cultivated and much used for food. Quantities are exported to be used salted and in confectionery. Seeds of numerous other European and Asian pines are gathered under many local names. The name pignolia is often applied to all pine nuts and vice versa.
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