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August 28, 2020 6 min read

‘Cracked cell wall’ is a term you will see when you’re shopping around for the best pine pollen. Aside from pine pollen that you harvest yourself or purchase from Canadian Pine Pollen Co. brand, every single pine pollen product available on the global market is cracked cell wall pine pollen. 

You can find dozens of pine pollen vendors on the internet, and while they may use buzz phrases like ‘wild-harvested,’ ‘mountain harvested,’ and ‘raw,’ they are all selling the same product - and it comes from China. Do a little investigation with any other pine pollen vendor you can find - what you’ll learn is that it all comes from two pine species called 'Pinus tabuliformis' and ‘Pinus massonia’. The percentage of each pine pollen in the mix might be different depending on the year and harvest region, but regardless the pollen is sold as Masson Pine Pollen, in general due to the dominance of the later specie in that part of Asia. 

On the other hand, we hand harvest from Lodgepole (Pinus contorta) and Ponderosa (Pinus ponderosa), in the untapped wilderness of British Columbia, and keep each pollen as a single variant.

To be fair, they do ‘wild-harvest’ harvest the Masson pine pollen from government-subsidized forests in rural parts of China - the real issue is that they crack the cell wall.

Canadian Pine Pollen Co. is the exclusive source for non-cracked cell wall pine pollen - just like our ancestors ate. We are very passionate about not altering the pine pollen in any way, presenting it to you as it is found in nature. 

It seems that if breaking the cell wall was necessary to gain a health benefit, then this food would’ve been forgotten about long ago. Yet, it has held a revered status in Eastern Medicine all this time despite people eating only the whole, uncracked pine pollen. 

Lodgepole red pigmented
Red pigmented lodgepole pollen Strobili (stro·bi·li)

Why Does Cracked Cell Wall Pine Pollen Exist?

Companies that sell cracked cell wall pine pollen most often tout increased bioavailability of the nutrients as their reason for doing so. However, the only evidence suggesting this is true is weak at best, and additionally only demonstrates, at most, an approximate 15% increase in water solubility of starches and proteins. Even at that you are not taking the pollen for the starches and proteins, are you?

The outer layer of the pine pollen is an ancient mechanism designed by Mother Nature to protect the light-sensitive enzymes, flavonoids, hormones, androgens and other growth-promoting ingredients from damage by oxidation and light. Aren't these what make the pine pollen a true wild superfood gone wild on steroids and more! The why damage the cell. Considering that cracking pollen's cell wall will expose these ingredients to air, the small increase in solubility of the nutrients in the broken cells is nullified due to the rapid degradation of nutrient integrity.


Pine pollen grain shape


This point is even more important when it comes to the alcoholic tinctures.s In our experience working with raw, wild Canadian Pine Pollen vs. best quality cracked cell Himalayan sourced pine pollen, asides from altering the unique texture of the whole-cell pine pollen powder, we can attest that the broken cell Himalayan pine pollen takes on a darker hue, browns and develops a bitter taste - evidence of oxidation, decomposition, and thus a loss of nutrients. Our whole-cell Canadian pine pollen, in contrast, retains a vibrant golden colour and mild taste pine after taste 

Another issue with the oxidation of pine pollen is that refrigeration is critical after harvest to preserve the shelf life. Like a nut, the pollen will spoil faster at room and in warmer temperatures.

We harvest for annual quota, package all of our products in glass, and immediately put our pollen in cold storage after bottling until you order it. We collect a specific amount of pine pollen each year, to ensure that everything we sell is from the most recent harvest - fresh and potent!

In contrast, many manufacturers keep their powder in plastic bags at room temperature for months or years before selling it to you, leading to further oxidation and more browning. 

Cracked cell pollen oxidation 

Brewing tincture menstruums from Ponderosa and Lodgepole pine pollen (top) compared to cracked cell mason pine pollen (below) 

What the Science Says About Cracked vs. Non-Cracked Pollen

Pine pollen evolved to have a very durable outer cell wall, to survive the journey from the male catkin to the female pine cone. 

One can understand this in a similar sense to nuts - many are aware that soaking/sprouting nuts before eating them dramatically enhances their digestibility by reducing phytic acid levels and activating certain enzymes. Nuts want to be planted and grow into big, healthy trees - which is why they resist degradation until being exposed to water (which tricks them into thinking they've been planted). It's a natural defence mechanism built into the nut for protection until it reaches the final destination.  

If pine pollen didn't have a rugged exterior, the nutrients inside would degrade before they ever had the chance to fertilize a pine cone and transform it into a towering pine tree. 

We see a lot of arbitrary numbers thrown out there, like this quote: 

"...approximately 95% of the uncracked pine pollen passes through the digestive tract undigested (as opposed to 99% of the cracked cell wall Pine Pollen being digested)."

These claims are unsubstantiated, and at best, are a blend of marketing tactics and guesses. No definitive studies state what percentage of pine pollen the human digestive tract assimilates, whether cracked or non-cracked cell wall.

However, there is some fascinating research which suggests that cracking the cell wall is unnecessary. This study took pine pollen and looked at it under a microscope before and after exposure to hydrochloric acid (as found in our stomachs). They discovered that hydrochloric acid effectively pokes holes in the pine pollen's cell wall, allowing for the nutrients inside to be extracted. 

Pine pollen under microscope (SEM)

 J. of Industrial & Engineering ChemistryMay 2017, Arun Kumar Prabhakar

Additionally, this study examined the digestibility of various pollen grains in a variety of animals. Overall (depending on the pollen and creature), pollen digestibility averaged between 50-100%. 

We've seen some people reference a Japanese study, wherein the pine pollen cell walls remained intact even after being exposed to caustic soda and radiation. While this is impressive in terms of numerous potential uses for the durable pine pollen's walls can be, it says nothing about the digestibility in humans - our stomachs have hydrochloric acid, not caustic soda and radiation.

While we certainly can't have an exact number to say how much pine pollen is digested by humans (especially when considering variations in individual metabolism and genetics), it is a fact that human beings can assimilate nutrients from raw, non-cracked cell wall pine pollen. 

Considering that pine pollen germination pores open up when exposed to water, plus the similarity of our stomach acid content (ph ~3.5) and mammals studied, experts estimate that on average, we assimilate at the least 50% of the non-cracked pine pollen we ingest and indeed up to 80% when the pollen is soaked in water before digestion. At 50% this may sound like a small number, but the phytoandrogens from pine pollen are so powerful that, feeding of uncracked cells can be effectively used in the fisheries to effecting sex reversal from female to male in the tilapia. Also the added bonus is in your gut. Non-cracked pollen grains have an amazing ability to absorb toxic chemicals from their surroundings,  effectively cleaning you from the inside out and promoting intestinal health.

The Actual Truth Behind Cracking the Cell

Pine pollen granules look like Mickey Mouse at a molecular level; there's the central portion containing all the nutrients, and two circular air pockets on either side of the top (resembling the ears). These air sacs capture even the slightest breeze very effectively, which is how it leaves the catkin and flies through the air to fulfill fertilization.

What is fascinating is that when viewed under a microscope, cracked cell Masson pine pollen is pollen with a large portion of air sack ruptured or stripped away from the round part of the cell. So why do it?

Firs off, ground drying technique, common to the production of Masson pine, involves repeated turn over of the pollen buds. This method invariably cracked the bud material, some small enough to be mixed in with the pollen. Craking the cell wall changed the uniform consistency of the pure pollen, and masks the residual plant impurities.  

At Canadain Pine Pollen Company we know this, that is why we decided to focus on small batch harvests and drying the buds on drying well ventilated drying racks rather than on the ground.

Masson Pine pollen

Additionally while packaging due to the powder's airborne nature there is an unavoidable ~10% loss of product when machine packed. Industrial-scale processing can lead to evermore. Rupturing the air sacs ('cracking the cell wall’) makes pine pollen much easier to work with, and prevents this loss in product. 

When working with the volume that the state subsidized Chinese manufacturers do, a mere 10% loss in pollen would be enormous, let alone the addition of a 10% residual plant matter!

The Final Word

We feel it is best to do your research, and also to come to your own conclusions. If you’re not sure which type of pine pollen produces the best results, we recommend trying ours, and compared it to literally any other vendor.  

We think the difference will be noticeable, to say the least. Please don’t take our word for it, though! 

And if you are convinced to give ours a try use "Un-Cracked" at check out to get 15% off your order today.

Here’s to your health and happiness, always. 

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