The edible seeds of pines are called pine nuts. There are about 20 species of pine that produce edible seeds suitable for human consumption. Amongst all, “Chilgoza”, also known as “Neja” or “Neje” is one of the popular pine nuts with significant nutritional value and health benefits. It is consumed and utilized for various reasons ranging from nutrition to medication and serves as a main source of income for people in hilly areas.
Chilgoza pine tree found in the north western Himalayan region produces Chilgoza pine nuts. Its range spreads from Garhwal to Baluchistan in Pakistan and on to Afghanistan. It normally exists at an altitude of above 5500 upto 9000 feet. It is a strong tree that needs very small quantity of soil and can survive in extreme cold and drought weather conditions. It plays an important role in preserving ecology of hilly regions as it prevents soil erosion. Its botanical name is “PINUS PINEA” and it belongs to family of “Pinaceae, genus Pinus”. Its fruit is its most used part and its edible part is its seed. Its other common names are Pine nut, Pinon nut, Pignoles, Pignola, Pinyon nut, Pinus and Pinea etc.
May and June is the flowering season for this tree and till September to October of the next year the cones fully ripen. The age and size of the pine tree determine the harvest of fruit. A single tree may yield from 25 to 400 cones. The ripe cone contains edible seeds called chilgoza. The pines are plucked green and the seeds are shaken out after heating the cone that opens it easily. The seeds are cylindrical in shape and pointed at tips, measuring 2-3 cm in length. Its skin is dark brown in colour and needs to be removed before eating.
Chilgoza is found in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, India and few other places in the world including Kabul. It is a chief cash crop for the tribals of Kinnaur that raises good money for them. Chilgoza is an expensive nut that costs approximately INR 1800-2400 per kilogram. Generally 100 seeds weigh 30-40 grams.
Chilgoza is known for its nutritional and medicinal values. Chilgozas’ are high-fat nuts and are rich in carbohydrates and proteins. They are an excellent source of vitamins A, Bl, B2 and B3, manganese, copper, magnesium, molybdenum and Zinc. They are also a source of dietary fiber. Although all nuts are rich in proteins and various nutrients, because of presence of some rare fatty acids, chilgozas’ bear a special value amongst all other nuts.