Maybe you’ve seen them around, or maybe you’ve been advised to eat them yourself. You might have already tried them if you've ever had moon cake for Chinese New year. Pili nuts are also sometimes made into candy and sweets, especially in southeast Asia, which is where they naturally grow. When they’re not in candy form, the nuts are super popular with the low-carb crowd. But why are they better than any other kind of nuts?
What's the big deal with pili nuts?
For one thing, they're low in carbs - probably the lowest-carb nut that typically gets sold as a snack. Pili nuts only have about 1 gram of carbs per ounce (about a handful) so they're very easy to fit into keto or low-carb plans.
|Nut type||Net carbs per 1 ounce (about a handful)||Fiber per 1 ounce (about a handful)|
|Pili nuts||1||<1 gram|
(Nutrition information taken from the US Department of Agriculture’s nutrient database. There’s some more detailed information about pili nuts available in this study for the truly curious).
Pili nuts are clearly the lowest-carb option of the bunch.
To add to their low-carb charms, pili nuts are also pretty tasty - they have a nice, mild, nutty flavor. Because they’re so high in fat and relatively low in fiber, they have a really great texture that might remind you of macadamias (another high-fat, low-carb nut). They go really well in desserts and sweets, but also in savory recipes.
So, they’re low in carbs, which is nice for the folks on keto diets, but most nuts are already low-carb by everything but keto standards. So if you’re not counting every single gram of carbs, is there any reason to shell out for pili nuts?
Most of the fat is saturated and monounsaturated, with only a little bit of polyunsaturated fat (PUFA). That’s good news - saturated and monounsaturated fats are the ones you want! Here’s a quick comparison
|Nut type||Saturated fat (grams)||Monounsaturated fat (grams)||PUFA (grams)|
Pili nuts have a lower PUFA content per ounce than anything except macadamias, and they have los of good saturated and monounsaturated fats. In fact, pili nuts are particularly rich in oleic acid, the same type of monounsaturated fat that’s in olive oil and avocados. Another study also found that pili nut oil was resistant to oxidation, which is good news.
Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)
For micronutrients, pili nuts have some B vitamins and some notable mineral content. They’re particularly high in magnesium, which helps with everything from sleep quality to digestion to the weird muscle cramps that can sometimes happen when people just start keto for the first time. According to this study, most of the micronutrients in pili nuts are pretty bioavailable, and if you eat them several times a week, they probably make a not-insignificant contribution to the overall nutrient content of your diet. It’s not like Brazil nuts where the selenium is off the charts from just one nut, but they’re pretty good for you.
Other good stuff
One study found that the pomace of pili nuts (that’s not the nut part; it’s another part of the plant) is full of antioxidants. In a very small study (only 10 people), drinking a special antioxidant-rich drink made of pili nut pomace increased people’s total blood antioxidant capacity. But again, that doesn’t have much to do with the nuts - the drink was made using a waste product of pili nut processing.
Buying and eating pili nuts
Where do I get them?
For most people, online is probably your best bet. Pili nuts are a pretty niche product, so they’re hard to find in a lot of major grocery stores. Some Whole Foods carry the nuts - and/or a new yogurt brand made from them - but not everyone has access to Whole Foods regularly. Most online health-food markets have them; so does Amazon.
Remember that if you’re buying anything but the plain nuts, it’s a good idea to take a close look at the ingredients label to make sure there isn’t anything you don’t want.
How do I eat them?
Just like any other nut - you can eat them plain by the handful, throw them on a salad, or cook with them. You can also find pili nut butter online, which can be used just like any other nut butter (as a dip for apples slices, a spread for Paleo crackers, a base for salad dressings…).
Whenever we’re talking about nuts, unfortunately allergies always come into play. A couple of studies have found that pili nuts may be cross-reactive with other nuts and legumes, meaning that if someone has an allergy to other tree nuts or peanuts, it’s possible that they’ll react to pili nuts as well. It’s not a guaranteed problem, but considering how serious nut allergies can be, it’s worth talking to an allergist or nutritionist about.
The bottom line
For people with some money to spend on a fun treat, pili nuts are a perfectly fine option. They’re probably on the high end of the quality scale for nuts generally; they don’t have anything that puts them outside a Paleo framework. But with that said, they definitely aren’t necessary, and if the grocery budget is getting tight, this should be one of the first things cut from the list. There’s nothing here that isn’t available from other foods, and there’s no reason to skimp on protein or vegetables for something that’s basically a luxury.