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Pignoli growers in the American Southwest are up against some stiff competition.

Clara Olshansky
June 21, 2017

A warning all pesto lovers: U.S. pine nuts are in serious danger. Pine nuts, those little seeds taken from the inside of pinecones that can be found in everything from salads to hummus to some baked goods, have been an important product of America's Southwest. But things are taking a turn for the worse. According to Civil Eats, the combination of the destruction of thousands of acres of piñon-juniper woodland, wherein pine nuts grow, and cheaper prices for pine nuts imported from Asia is dealing a massive blow to the U.S. pine nut industry.

A lot of the piñon-juniper woodland was cleared in the mid-twentieth century, when the U.S. Forestry Service and the Bureau of Land Management decided that, since the trees didn't make good timber, they were pretty much useless. They wanted to convert it to ranchland for the cattle industry.

The U.S. has since stopped removing all that piñon-juniper to make room for cows for the most part, but a force bigger than the U.S. government has taken over the business of making pine nut farming more difficult: the Earth's climate. Recent unpredictable weather patterns have taken a serious toll on pine nut production, and it's only getting worse (i.e. weather so hot you could bake a pizza in a parking lot). It's also getting harder for pine nut farmers to get approved for a shrinking number of commercial gathering permits, and labor is tedious and expensive—the day's harvest for one worker is about fifty pounds of pine nuts at best.

Between that and the affordability of pine nuts from countries like China and North Korea, things really don't look good for the U.S. (even though Chinese and Korean pine nuts can cause something called "pine mouth"). If things get much worse or too expensive, you may want to learn to make a good pine nut-free pesto.