Felled by the Pine Nut Mouth

I made Straw and Hay Fettuccine Tangle on Saturday night (btw Heidi's Super Natural Cooking is awesome, I love it!) for dinner. Monday for lunch I ate the leftovers, including a bunch of whole pine nuts that had fallen to the bottom of the dish. By Tuesday evening I had a weird taste in the back of my throat, so weird that when I when I woke up during the night, I couldn't get back to sleep. Was is the allergy pill I'd taken for the first time this year? The strong cheese and rind I ate for dinner? The strong wine that accompanied it?

By yesterday the strange taste hadn't abated, despite multiple teeth brushings and flossings, tongue scrapings, and mouthwash swirlings. I turned to Twitter for guidance. And almost immediately people replied asking if I'd eaten pine nuts recently. At first I ignored, but as more people mentioned, I was curious. Then someone said to Google "Chinese pine nuts" and lo a diagnosis: Pine Nut Mouth! (aka "Pine Mouth" or "Pine Nut Syndrome") Seems that there are a lot of pine nuts on the market these days imported from China and they're causing people to get a metallic taste in the back of the throat after ingesting, sometimes lasting up to two weeks!

I'm happy to report my case is resolving and I actually enjoyed my breakfast, but until today food's been so off-putting, I haven't wanted to eat. My pine nuts were from Whole Food's bulk bin, and I stored them in the fridge. They didn't taste rancid when I prepared them, so I'm not thinking it's rancidity-related. I'm going to go back and investigate where they're from to confirm China. And if I can bare to eat pine nuts again this summer, I'm splurging for Italian imports. Right now, that's a big if.

18 thoughts on “Felled by the Pine Nut Mouth

  1. I’ve been getting pine nuts at trader joe’s, costco (excellent price) and stop and shop and we use them quite often. I’ve never had the back of throat problem. Sounds like either a rancid batch or an allergic reaction to something on them or both. Glad you recovered, hopefully you’ll be back in pine nuts soon.

  2. I have a friend who just went though this for just over a week, and your research is spot-on. It stems from China-grown pine nuts, and yes, it seems to be the most off-putting thing in terms of food — all food! — that I have ever witnessed.
    At this stage, the chances of my friend ever eating pine nuts again is questionable. It’s been months since the event and she hasn’t touched them. While she was going through it, she began to think the taste would never subside. Truly terrifying for a food and wine aficionado.

  3. I read something several weeks ago…maybe on the NYT food blog, but not exactly sure where, but yes, pine nuts from China may have some problems. I would hesitate to say ALL pine nuts from China have this problem, but certainly some of them do. I am surprised that this has not gotten more coverage in the blogsphere.

  4. If you’re looking to avoid Chinese imports, I might suggest you try and source some domestically-produced piñon (pinyon) pine nuts. In many areas out west, they’re harvested in the wild by the local indigenous communities, which in some cases have special harvesting rights. I can attest to their deliciousness, and you get the added benefit of supporting underserved communities.

  5. In the last year I have had 2 bad experiences with Trader Joe’s pine nuts, with the 2nd being very bad. The TJ’s pine nuts say that they are from China or Korea. I have not had any problem with the pine nuts from my local Whole Foods bulk bin.

  6. There appears to be a dearth of pine nuts now, especially of the kinds grown outside of China. My regular nut supplier told me that Californian and Turkish pine nuts were up to 60 euro’s a kilo (wholesale! — in the Netherlands). That’s a sixfold price increase!
    In practice this means that the only kind that reaches the shops are the cheaper Chinese pine nuts. And these are prone to cause the metallic aftertaste effect…

  7. Had the exact same thing two months ago. Pine nuts had an “organic” label (don’t remember more). Did same research, same findings. Symptoms abated after about a week.

  8. I had this in January – *everything* tasted bitter for about 2 1/2 weeks. Chinese pine nuts from health food store It isn’t rancidity, the nuts tasted fine and were fairly fresh – I think it must be some pine subspecies that grows in that part of the world. It also isn’t all Chinese pine nuts, evidently. But I will be shy about buying them again for a while!

  9. Man, I feel for you. This happened to me, twice. Each time it lasted about two weeks. It’s ruined pesto for me. I hate that the culprit may be sketchy nuts from China. It’s similar to the allergic reaction my wife had to olive oil–it was adulterated with hazel nut oil, which is apparently a very common practice.
    By the way, best pine nuts in the world are from the pinion trees of New Mexico, says biased me.

  10. Maybe it’s genetic reaction thing (like cilantro). I get this great salad with pinenuts from a cafe every few weeks or so, never had a problem. Even when i buy them for myself.

  11. Ugh, pine mouth. Ive been buying beautiful long Turkish pine-nuts and since then haven’t had a problem. But once it lasted for three weeks – I nearly starved.

  12. This has been happening to me my entire life, but it took me until about age 23 (early 90s) to pin down that pine nuts were the culprit. I make my own pesto with walnuts, and I have to avoid all sorts of delicious sounding dishes at restaurants that contain pesto.

  13. Story on KCRW’s Good Food about this syndrome a while back. Solution seems to be to avoid pine nuts unless you know they’re sourced from Italy.

  14. I suffered from this a few months ago, was absolutely terrible. As a bit of a dramatic worrier, my first assumption was that I had suffered some sort of brain tumor. After speaking with a dietitian friend, she got a twinkle in her eye and asked if I had eaten pine nuts recently. I had just eaten some a few days before (toasted, in a salad). These came from Morrison’s (UK grocery store chain) and had no information of origin, just that they were packaged in the UK.

  15. This happened to my mother. She searched and read on one of her vegan foodie blogs that Chinese pine trees have developed a toxin to fight off pests that other pine trees don’t have to deal with. So this toxin isn’t toxic to humans, but about 10% of the population reacts with the horrible taste for a few days.

  16. Unless you’ve been eating lots of pine nuts for a long time, I’d recommend a trip to the allergist to make sure you are not allergic to pine nuts. (I am.)
    That’s similar to the reaction that I had one of the first times I had pine nuts — a dry metallic taste in the back of my mouth and throat, similar to licking a 9 volt battery if you ever did that when you were a kid. Add to that some bumps and hivey feelings in my throat and on my head. Problem is, for many people, the allergy worsens with each exposure to the nut, which is what happened to me. I now carry an EpiPen because my reaction has worsened to the point of anaphylaxis. Last 2 times I ate pine nuts I ended up in the emergency room for an IV of benadryl and Zyrtec to keep me breathing.
    And FYI, I’m allergic to no other nuts or foods that I know of. Just a thought.

  17. Good source for pine nuts or pignoli nuts there are American organic grown they are superb in-shell raw or shelled raw there web sight is wholesalepinenuts.com a simple comment to let you know you don’t have to buy importer pine nuts any more.
    They have a bitter-free guarantee. Mike

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