Bad pine nuts can cause 'Pine Mouth' syndrome

2010-12-11T12:00:00Z 2010-12-11T12:06:14Z Bad pine nuts can cause 'Pine Mouth' syndromeBY EVAN S. BENN • ebenn@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8348 stltoday.com

After eating another bitter-tasting turkey sandwich and washing it down with a glass of metal-flavored water last month, I turned to WebMD, my go-to site whenever I think I might be dying.

I punched in my symptoms -- "bitter taste in mouth," "lingering metallic flavor" -- and the Internet doctors didn't want to rule anything out: Crohn's disease, a brain tumor and pregnancy were all possibilities, the site said.

The problem, I recently discovered, turned out to be more edible than medical. I had come down with what's known as "Pine Mouth," a condition caused by eating oxidized or otherwise undesirable pine nuts that makes everything taste bitter and metallic for days afterward.

The always-reliable Cook's Illustrated has a blurb about it (subscription required) on Page 2 of the current January-February issue. It notes that a Belgian doctor first reported the phenomenon in 2001, and Pine Mouth Syndrome now is the focus of several blogs, medical studies and even Facebook pages.  

There seems to be some continuing debate over whether Pine Mouth is a result of consuming pine nuts that have gone rancid (due to their high oil content, pine nuts aren't as shelf-stable as other nuts) or if there are some "bad nuts" that have made their way into the global market from China. Cook's Illustrated suggests being vigilant about only buying pine nuts that are labeled as being grown in the Middle East or Europe and properly storing them in a sealed container in the refrigerator or freezer.

I broke both of those rules in the days before my bout with Pine Mouth. Wanting to make pesto, I picked up a few ounces of pine nuts from one of those bulk dispensers at a supermarket, which means they had already been exposed to air for some time, and I didn't look to see where they were grown. I put the pesto idea off for a day or two, leaving the nuts in a plastic bag on my kitchen counter.

When I finally made it, the pesto tasted just fine (in hindsight, the garlic and cheese probably masked any off flavors from the pine nuts), but soon everything else started to taste very, very bad. Everything from water and (gasp) beer to turkey sandwiches and sweets reminded my taste buds of sucking on a quarter.

It lasted about four or five days, right around the time I turned to WebMD, and then went away just as quickly as it came on. Now I know better -- about pine nuts and Pine Mouth -- and I hope this post might prevent others from suffering the same fate.

By the way, WebMD has an entry on Pine Mouth, too, which I might have noticed if I wasn't too busy panicking about the possibility of having Crohn's or being pregnant.

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