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Substitute for Pine Nuts


This article has the top ten options to substitute for pine nuts. Pine nuts are the most versatile and delicious nuts (and some of the priciest!). Often found in pesto sauce, these nuts have a slightly sweet flavor and are a great addition to various foods.

table top with spilled small pine nuts and glass jar filled with pine nuts

What Are Pine Nuts?

Pine nuts are a tasty, lightly sweet, soft nut that you can use as a salad and dip topping, dessert inclusion, or coffee flavoring (also known as piñon). Pine nuts grow on pine trees inside of pinecones. They look similar to shelled sunflower seeds and are about the same size.

Each pinecone scale holds two pine nuts. Pinecones must be put outside to dry in the sun (usually in breathable bags). Then, the pine nuts are taken out one by one by hand. These pine nuts are held in a shell underneath the scale. Once they are separated, they are deshelled and finally ready for purchase. This lengthy process is the cause of the high cost of pine nuts.

Pine Nut Varieties

There are many varieties of pine nuts globally – about 20 different types. Each variety of pine nuts grows on a different type of pine tree. There are five common types that you will likely encounter in the store depending on your location, including Mexican pinyon, Italian stone pine, Chinese nut pine, Colorado pinion, and Siberian pine nuts.

They all have a similar appearance, though the color and size may change slightly depending on the source of the pine nut. If you’re in the US, the Colorado pinion is likely what you’ll find at the supermarket.

Pine Nut Substitutes and Alternatives

1. Cashews

Cashews work well as the top pine nut alternative as they have a subtle, sweet flavor. Their texture is also similar and softer, like pine nuts. You can chop them into a similar size, making it easy to replace pine nuts for cashews in a 1:1 ratio.

As cashews are similar in texture and flavor, you can use them in any recipe that calls for pine nuts. These nuts are great in sweet and savory recipes. Add them into baked goods, pesto, and a garnish on your favorite soup. Roast the chopped cashews before using them in recipes for an even closer taste.

Pros
Cashews are the best option to replace pine nuts with a similar texture and flavor. This alternative works in all recipes that require pine nuts. You can find cashews in most grocery stores, making them easily accessible.

Cons
Cashews are a pricier alternative to pine nuts, so they are not budget-friendly.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio to replace pine nuts with chopped cashews.

2. Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are an excellent pine nut substitute, especially for those with tree nut allergies. The shelled seed mimics pine nuts in shape and color. Sunflower seeds also offer a nutty flavor. This seed works well as a recipe replacement due to its shape and taste.

These seeds are found in the center of sunflower flowers (aka Helianthus annuus) and are much easier to harvest. Because of this, sunflower seeds are also an excellent budget-friendly option for those who want to recreate a pine nut recipe without the high cost of pine nuts.

Pros
You can use deshelled sunflower seeds as a substitute for pine nuts in pesto. These seeds work well in any pine nut recipe, including a garnish for salads and soups. Sunflower seeds are easy to find at the grocery store and even at your nearest gas station for a lower cost than pine nuts.

Cons
There is a difference in texture as sunflower seeds are firm, while pine nuts are softer. In pesto, there will not be much of a difference. However, this will be noticeable in baked goods or where the seeds are kept whole.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio when replacing pine nuts with sunflower seeds.

3. Walnuts

Walnuts are another great choice as an alternative to pine nuts. These nuts are readily available in grocery stores and offer a tangy, nutty, slightly bitter flavor. To more closely mimic pine nuts, you can roast walnuts and remove the skin for a sweeter taste.

You can also soften up walnuts by leaving them in water for a few hours before using them for sauces like pesto. This nut alternative is another versatile nut working for baked goods and as a salad garnish/soup topping.

Pros
Many people already have walnuts in their kitchen, making it an easy swap. They add a nutty taste to recipes and work well in sweet and savory dishes.

Cons
The other flavor notes are much different from pine nuts and create a different taste. This alternative can be pricey, so that it may be out of budget for some.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio to replace pine nuts.

4. Macadamia Nuts

You can also substitute pine nuts with macadamia nuts. They offer a delicious buttery, decadent taste to recipes. If you’re looking for a nut similar to pine nuts but richer, you can use macadamia nuts. They also offer a slightly sweet taste when they are roasted, making them mimic the taste of pine nuts more closely.

You can blend these nuts to create creamy dips or use them to recreate a pesto that is even more decadent. Otherwise, they are an excellent alternative when you’re making baked goods and desserts.

Pros
This swap offers some of the same flavor notes as pine nuts. They also provide a similar texture as they are pretty soft. Using macadamia nuts creates a creamier, richer taste in recipes, and you can use them in savory and sweet dishes.

Cons
Macadamia nuts are pricier than pine nuts, so that they may be out of budget for some. They also have a slightly different flavor, especially if eaten raw.

Cooking Tip:
Use macadamia nuts in a 1:1 ratio to replace pine nuts.

5. Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds are another nut-free pine nut alternative. These tiny seeds offer a sweet, nutty taste similar to pine nuts. These seeds are much smaller than pine nuts and have limited uses as pine nut replacements. However, if you have some on hand, they can replace pine nuts in salad dressings, sauces, and sweet treats.

Use toasted sesame seeds for an additional flavor boost in recipes. These seeds are one of the oldest forms of food for humans. With such a long history, they have been incorporated into many foods worldwide.

Pros
This seed swap is found easily in the Asian section of the grocery store and provides a nuttiness and sweetness to recipes. They work well in dressings, desserts, and sauces.

Cons
Sesame seeds are limited in their uses and can only work for a few select recipes. They also have a caramel taste that changes the flavor of recipes slightly.

Cooking Tip:
Use 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds for every tablespoon of pine nuts.

6. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds also work as a pine nut replacement. Their texture is different when raw, much chewier than pine nuts. When you roast them, they become crunchy. Either way, they will create a different consistency when you use them in recipes. However, they offer a sweet and nutty taste that mimics pine nuts.

This option is another budget-friendly alternative that you can find easily at the store. If there are only pumpkin seeds with shells, they can be labor-intensive to remove. Inside, you’ll find a flat, long, green seed which will alter the color slightly of pesto. Use this replacement in sweet and savory dishes.

Pros
Shelled pumpkin seeds provide a nearly identical taste and work well in savory and sweet recipes. You can use these tasty seeds in all recipes that call for pine nuts.

Cons
The texture difference will be noticeable in recipes where pumpkin seeds are kept whole, for example, a garnish for sweet bread. If you are shelling the seeds, it will be a time-consuming task.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio to replace pine nuts with pumpkin seeds.

7. Chopped Hazelnuts

Chopped hazelnuts are a good substitute for pine nuts for dessert recipes. They offer a strong, nutty, earthy taste which pairs well with chocolate. While their flavor is much stronger than pine nuts, they are a great way to add flavor to recipes.

Unfortunately, this nut is not a good swap for savory recipes due to its taste. Using hazelnuts will also require you to roast them before including them in dishes as the outer skin is bitter and creates too much of a difference in flavor.

Pros
This swap is a delicious option for desserts. You can cook the hazelnuts directly into items like muffins, cupcakes, and cakes. Or, sprinkle chopped hazelnuts on top for an easy garnish.

Cons
The hazelnuts flavor is quite different from pine nuts, besides the sweetness and nuttiness. They require additional steps and time as you’ll need to roast them before use.

Cooking Tip:
Start with ½ the amount required by the recipe and add more as needed.

8. Almonds

Almonds are an excellent sub for pine nuts as they offer a mild, nutty taste. They are much harder than pine nuts, so there will be a texture difference in recipes. It’s best to use these in recipes that don’t require cooking as they can turn bitter when cooked for too long.

This swap is an excellent choice for a garnish after a portion of food is cooked or baked. For example, you can use crushed nuts to sprinkle on top of your soup. It’s also one of the best options for a pine nut alternative in pesto sauce. Or, use slivered/sliced almonds as a topping for salad.

Pros
Almonds are more affordable than some other nut alternatives, especially when you purchase them in slivers or slices. Their mild taste bodes well with most pine nut recipes that don’t require extensive cooking.

Cons
These nuts are not as flavorful as pine nuts and can taste bland in comparison. While you can roast and cook them, the bitter flavor that arises creates a more considerable taste difference when compared to pine nuts.

Cooking Tip:
Use in a 1:1 ratio to replace pine nuts.

9. Roasted Peanuts

Roasted peanuts are the easiest to find and most affordable to purchase as a substitution for pine nuts. This nut alternative has a bland taste compared to pine nuts. The best option for recipes is honey-roasted peanuts which mimic the sweetness of pine nuts. If you’re planning to add additional seasoning, you can use unsalted peanuts instead.

You can use peanuts for both sweet and savory dishes. However, this nut does not work well in pesto based on its higher oil content. This option is best as a garnish for soups, sweets, and some salads.

Pros
Peanuts have a subtle taste that blends well with other ingredients. They offer a similar nutty flavor to pine nuts. Use peanuts for sweets and as a topping for dips and soups.

Cons
Regular peanuts can be bland if you don’t have honey-roasted peanuts on hand. The uses for this swap are limited to a few recipes.

Cooking Tip:
Use as a 1:1 ratio when replacing peanuts with pine nuts.

10. Pistachios

This sweet and green nut is another excellent choice for a pine nut swap. Pistachios offer an earthy, decadent, nutty, sweet taste to recipes. You’ll notice a bolder taste when using pistachios. However, the flavor is a good match for a pine nut replacement.

Many stores sell this nut already shelled, but if you have unshelled pistachios in your pantry, preparing them for a recipe can be labor-intensive. You can use this replacement for dishes that call for pine nuts, including pesto. This nut is typical in Vietnamese, Italian, and Turkish recipes for savory and sweet dishes.

Pros
Pistachios are an excellent flavor match for pine nuts. Plus, they are versatile, and you can use them in all recipes that call for pine nuts.

Cons
This swap is another pricey option that may not fit everyone’s budget. It also has a stronger taste, making it easy to overpower the other ingredients if you add too much to a recipe.

Cooking Tip:
Use ¼ less than the required amount due to their stronger taste.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Can Be Used in Place of Pine Nuts?

There are many nut options that you can use in place of pine nuts. Some top choices include cashews, macadamia nuts, and pistachios. The recipe you plan to make with pine nuts will affect which substitute is chosen.

What Can I Substitute for Pine Nuts in Pesto?

A few nuts work best as a substitute for pine nuts in homemade pesto. These swaps include walnuts, pistachios, almonds, and sunflower seeds. For easy basil pesto, you can combine these nuts with olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, fresh basil leaves, and parmesan cheese.

Is There a Difference Between Peanuts and Pine Nuts?

Yes, there is a difference between pine nuts and peanuts. Besides a difference in flavor, each type of nut comes from a different tree. Pine nuts originate from pine trees, and peanuts grow in the ground on a bush.

What Does Pine Nuts Taste Like?

Pine nuts offer a sweet and subtle flavor. They also offer a nutty taste to recipes. An uncommon phenomenon that a small number of people encounter while eating pine nuts causes a bitter and metallic taste, also known as pine nut syndrome.

Summary

Don’t stress if pine nuts are unavailable for your favorite pesto recipe. Instead, use one of the above options to substitute for pine nuts in your dish. Reach for cashews, pistachios, and macadamia nuts as top options that you can use in all pine nut dishes.

Pine Nut Recipes

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document easy real food recipes perfect for busy families. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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