Pine Nuts Left a Bitter Taste in my Mouth

Are you suffering from a bitter taste in the back of your mouth every time you eat or drink?  Has it lasted for more than a day?  Are you starting to worry that perhaps there’s something terribly wrong with you?  Don’t worry, it’s probably not a brain tumor.  Perhaps pine nuts are the culprit!

So I woke up yesterday morning with a headache.  Nothing terrible, it happens.  Instead of taking ibuprofen on an empty stomach, I grabbed a Ritz cracker out of the pantry to eat before I took the pill.  I ate the cracker and noticed that it tasted terrible.  Now, it was from a sealed package, but those crackers have been sitting in there for months so I figured they were just stale.  Whatever.  I took my pill, then sat down with a cup of coffee.  The coffee tasted bad, too.  I just had this weird, bitter taste in the back of my mouth.  But, I figured maybe there was just something wrong with my throat.  Perhaps I was coming down with something, there are lots of nasty bugs floating around right now and I had woken up with a headache after all.  Later that morning I decided to try some of the chili (breakfast of champions!) that my friend Amanda had dropped off on her way to work.  The chili had the same bitter aftertaste as everything else I had consumed up to that point.  Now I knew there was a problem.  Amanda doesn’t make bad food!  Sure enough, every other thing I tried to eat yesterday tasted horrible, and it seemed to get worse as the day progressed.  There was definitely something going on with my tastebuds.  So I did what any red-blooded, internet-obsessed hypochondriac American would have done.  I googled my symptoms.

Well, it took all of about 2 seconds to find several accounts of people suffering the exact symptoms, and scanning the page, the words ‘pine nuts’ jumped out at me.  I had been eating a TON of pine nuts for the last few days.  So I refined my google search to include the phrases “pine nuts” and “bitter taste.”  With 30 seconds of my original search, I had the answer to the bitter taste mystery!

Apparently, if you are one of the lucky people who runs into a bad pine nut or two, you could develop the taste disturbance that I am experiencing right now.  There’s a scientific article about it and it’s even mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on Pine Nuts:

The eating of pine nuts can cause serious taste disturbances, developing 1-3 days after consumption and lasting for days or weeks. A bitter, metallic taste is described. In general, a minority of pine nuts on the market present this problem. Though very unpleasant, there does not seem to be a real health concern. — Wikipedia

Nobody seems to be able to explain exactly why it happens.  But after reading several accounts, I am satisfied that pine nuts are the culprit in my case.  It seems that this bitter taste can last anywhere from a couple of days to over a week.  Ugh, lucky me!

Now I am not writing this to start a pine nut panic!  Several blog posts are blaming this issue on pine nuts from China, but my pine nuts weren’t from China.  I bought them at Trader Joe’s and the package states that they came from one of three places: Korea, Russia, or Vietnam.  I don’t believe that this a case of China selling poisoned pine nuts to the United States, although the Chinese variety of pine nuts may be more susceptible to the problem.  I think that there are some bad nuts out there that appear to be coming from several undetermined sources and unfortunately at least one of them ended up in my mouth. But since it seems that this is happening more with Chinese pine nuts than with Italian pine nuts, I think I’ll stick to the Italian ones from here on out!

So, will this keep me from eating pine nuts in the future?  Hell no!  I love them too much.  I will, however, be more careful about where I purchase them.  I will spend more money and make sure they are fresh and that I know exactly where they are coming from.  Sorry, Trader Joe’s!

Here are some general guidelines I suggest you follow when purchasing/storing pine nuts:

– Buy the more expensive Italian pine nuts and make sure it’s from a store with a high turnover.
– Pine nuts turn rancid very quickly, so buy in small quantities and store them well-wrapped in the refrigerator for short periods of time, or in the freezer if you need to store them for an extended period of time.  Just make sure you keep those suckers cold!

Now I know that google is no substitute for a doctor, but after my research I’m satisfied that my taste disturbance is indeed caused by pine nuts.  I’m not sick, I have no symptoms other than the bitterness in my mouth (I’m positive that the headache I mentioned at the beginning of my story had more to do with the wine consumed the night before than with pine nut poisoning).  The bitter taste is annoying, but I don’t feel that my health is in danger.  I eat a lot of pine nuts and have been doing so for years.  This is the first time I’ve ever had a problem and I’m confident that if I’m careful with my pine nut purchases in the future, it won’t happen again.

So, has this happened to any of you?  If so, where did your pine nuts come from?

Related stories of pine nut problems:

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  1. Diane

    I contacted them several months ago and they claimed they would not buy again from China once this “batch” was used up. Interestingly, it still seems to be an issue. Must have been one heck of a big batch. Bottom line, they don’t seem to care. They sell a lot of Chinese food at Trader Joe’s but so does Whole Foods and other higher end stores. I’ve taken to really looking at the country of origin when I’m shopping. Not just at Trader Joe’s but even in my little neighborhood grocer. Just so you know, the small jars of pine nuts that are packaged in the US are generally from China too. I have only one source for pine nuts now and it’s on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx at a store called Teitel Brothers. They import them from Spain or Italy only. They are approximately a million dollars per pound but I’ll pay it just to never have pine mouth again.

    1:58 pm  Oct 26th, 2011
  2. Inna

    Well, I wrote to Trader Joe’s where I purchased it and also sent email to FDA. This is simply unacceptable. I FEEL ILL. It’s not a matter of inconvenience ONLY, it’s lower energy, productivity, nausea… if I wouldn’t do the research on the net first, I’d skip a few hours from work, would go see a doctor and pay my fair share for the visit. The insurance would pay the rest. This is too big price for us to pay to some nasty freak who probably reading these postings and laughing at us and getting richer and richer. I’ll wait to hear from FDA.

    2:22 pm  Oct 26th, 2011
  3. Tim

    I would highly recommend the readers of this blog do some more research on this subject (maybe even the news-source type!). Even the Wikipedia page that is cited in the article implies that this seems to be an allergy situation. Although this obviously isn’t a full-blown pine nut allergy, allergies of this type are quite common. It is far more likely that our bodies (yes, mine too, but I am not about to blame “bad food”) react poorly to pine nuts (certain variations more than others) and that we should just be aware of this when eating.

    4:17 pm  Oct 29th, 2011
  4. Marilyn

    Regardless that you seem to be somewhat sarcastic in your comment, I would have to agree that this problem could be related to an allergy, considering the fact that my husband eat the same pine nuts as myself and did not have the same reaction.
    I guess that would let Trader Joes, which is where I made my purchase, off the hook. However, their pine nuts did not only leave the bitter taste in my mouth, they did not taste like pine nuts, rather it was similar to eating a stale sunflower seed. I had a check in my mind about it, regardless I did not have time to return them and look for another source, I used them anyway. Lesson learned.

    6:58 am  Oct 30th, 2011
  5. Alice K.

    I absolutely *disagree* that this is an allergy because I have been eating my recently purchased Turkish pine nuts and have had absolutely NO problem…only ever had it with a certain bag of Chinese origin pine nuts, as I have documented above.
    *INTERESTINGLY*, just recently, I saw tiny, expensive bags of pine nuts prominently displayed in my local A & P, and also at a D’Agostino…with origins from Turkey and Italy. I firmly believe that this is in response to the many complaints about Chinese pine nuts. Let’s keep it up and get the word out! (by the way, it is much easier to *call* your local FDA and issue your complaint to a human being–just do a simple google search to get their number).
    I have recently been thinking that since we have pine trees in the U.S., how come there are no pine nuts from the U.S.? Perhaps because the local pine trees are a different species (inedible) than the Mediterranean ones! THAT is probably what the case is with China. There trees are probably an inedible species…and if they were edible, then why do pine nuts not a traditional part of Asian cuisine as it is in the Mediterranean countries where the truly edible ones come from?!? Think about it!

    1:06 pm  Oct 31st, 2011
  6. Denise

    Tim, I have no problem with organic pine nuts from Italy. I think it’s the poor quality of this smaller more bitter type rather than an allergy.

    7:29 pm  Nov 1st, 2011
  7. Diane

    I actually wonder if it’s a different nut altogether. It looks different than the Spanish or Italian ones.

    6:46 am  Nov 2nd, 2011
  8. EMI

    Thanks for the info – I was also searching google for bitter taste as I’ve had one for over a week now. When I saw pine nuts pop up I was intrigued as I had recently opened my second bag in the last month.
    They were, of course, from Trader Joes. I’m guessing they use an inferior quality which is perhaps more likely to cause this phenomenon. Two years after your original post and they now have a warning on the bag stating “some individuals may experience a reaction to eating pine nuts characterized by a lingering bitter or metallic taste”

    Guess I’ll have to spend the extra $$ and save myself from weeks of aspirin-mouth.

    11:07 am  Nov 4th, 2011
  9. Alice K

    Diane wrote: “I actually wonder if it’s a different nut altogether. It looks different than the Spanish or Italian ones.”

    EXACTLY! If these were edible pine nuts, would Thailand, Russia, China, (Trader Joe’s origins) have used them traditionally in their cuisine?

    6:28 pm  Nov 15th, 2011
  10. Jocpdx

    I’ve posted before but it seems people didn’t take it seriously. Gargle (and swallow a little) Ouzo. I’m not sure if it was the anise or what but It worked for me!

    9:03 pm  Nov 15th, 2011
  11. Don

    I am a retired ear,nose and throat doctor and noticed a bitter taste in my mouth for the past week. I examined my mouth and throat but found nothing. I was considering going to the doctor who replaced me for a more thorough exam but I had dinner with a friend of mine who had similar symptoms. He told me about this website. I had eaten pine nuts from Trader Joe’s before the symptoms occured. They were from Korea, Russia and Vietnam. I will take them back to TJ’s. In response to other comments, all pine nuts are edible. The pine nuts found in stores are from Italian stone pines. They will grow anywhere but harvesting from the hard shells is labor intensive so that is probably why they come from 3rd world countries

    8:37 pm  Nov 16th, 2011
  12. DairyGodmother

    I have this “Pine Mouth” right now and I’m so freaked out by it! Just in time to ruin my Thanksgiving dinner too. I still have my bag — they are NOT from Trader Joe’s but from a local chain called ShopRite owned by Wakefern Foods — but they are supplied by an unknown vendor. This is horrible. I still have half my bag and if I look I can see a couple little small round pine nuts mixed in with the long narrow ones.

    The Trader Joe’s letter is disgusting. This used to be a reliable retailer before they were bought by investors.

    I’m convinced these are poison — articles published in the UK mention that even the Chinese regulatory bodies admit this strain is ‘not for human consumption’. Who knows what kind of toxic inflammation I’ve picked up?

    So angry! And I threw out a wonderful pot roast I thought was spoiled due to bitterness & metallic taste. Boooo!!!

    1:31 pm  Nov 21st, 2011
  13. teresaj

    so glad to find this. my symptoms match many others above. I all of the sudden got this awful taste like a chemical in mouth and it has lasted for several days. As soon as I read this… ah ha moment as the day before this bitter aftertaste, you guessed it , I had eaten a couple of handfuls of pine nuts. so after reading this, I looked at my package of pine nuts and you guessed it again they were from china, now they are in the trash and hopefully one of the remedies listed above will help remove this terrible bitter after taste. Who would have guessed something like that would last for several days. weird. but great to figure out the cause. thank you for posting this story and for all the comments posted also.

    12:54 am  Dec 7th, 2011
  14. Imaftlina

    I’m sure the best for you for more detail online

    12:58 pm  Dec 10th, 2011
  15. .dimple.CheekedMom

    well, Any guess as to why I am here and commenting! Bitter taste..small handful of pine nuts everyday..Trader Joe’s. I am taking mine back since they have a satisfaction guaranteed policy.
    For the last week I have been brushing as far back as I could on my tongue. I thought ‘man these bacterias, sure are poopin a lot farther back these days.’ I have gone through a pack of gum a day. We all bought our pine nuts at T.J.’s b/c they are $9.99 a bag. Now I really hope that Whole foods Pine nuts for $29.99/lb do not cause this effect?!

    8:17 pm  Dec 15th, 2011
  16. Michele A

    I can’t believe this! I’ve been eatingpine nuts for years, no problem. Bought a bag from…yes…Trader Joe’s, and made delicious Italian pignoli cookies a few days ago. The weird thing is 5 or 6 other people tasted the cookies and had no problem, but I have this back-of-the-tongue bitterness described here ever since I ate the pine nuts. I wonder if this is because I ate a handful of raw pine nuts while baking, while the others ate the cookies and the nuts on the cookies were somewhat toasted from baking them? I had no idea this was a syndrome; like others, I googled “bitterness in mouth” and found all these reports! Sincerely hopes this gets better in time for the Christmas dinner I’m cooking!

    9:18 am  Dec 23rd, 2011
  17. Lorna

    I bought a large bag from Sams club earlier this year and kept them in the freezer. I opened them a couple days ago and used some toasted in salads twice in the last 3 days. I also ate a few before they were toasted. No problems were noted when we ate them. Last night, I started having this nasty bitter taste when I’m eating and it was worse at lunch. My husband said he hasn’t noticed anything. I guess this will keep me from eating much over the balance of the holiday. Hope it doesn’t last long.

    1:37 pm  Dec 28th, 2011
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  19. Michele A

    The taste lasted about 3 to 4 days for me. Because the pignoli cookies were such a hit, I ordered Italian pine nuts from at $18 for a HALF pound. I plan on keeping them in the freezer and seeing how it goes. This must be an individual reaction, because no one else who ate the cookies had a problem, including my 83-year-old mother!

    6:20 am  Dec 31st, 2011


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  22. Kimmers

    Wow! I am a sufferer also for 8 days now. I convinced myself that something must be really wrong with me. Mine started after eating a small chunk of raw potatoe with a sprinkle of salt..a habit my mom taught me. Never before has this happened to my mouth. Thank for all you out there for sharing…I pray my yucky taste will end soon!

    8:16 pm  May 30th, 2012
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  24. k

    I read an article about “Pine Mouth”, the bitter taste people can get in their mouths after eating pine nuts. This article said the problem was that some companies are selling the inedible variety of pine nuts. Pine nuts are in high demand and expensive, so some companies are passing off inedible pine nuts as edible ones since you can’t tell by looking at the pine nuts (at least consumers can’t tell the difference). It is really consumer fraud, not a case of rancid pine nuts.

    2:19 pm  Aug 16th, 2012
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  27. bob johnson

    First, I LOVE Trader Joe’s. I’ve shopped there for years and continue to shop at a great grocery store! With that said, I bought pine nuts at Trader Joe’s a couple months ago.. I ate most of the bag in salads with no ill effects. However, twice I popped a handful into my mouth before bedtime. The 2nd time was lead to two WEEKS of my taste buds telling me everything was bitter and metallic. A horrible experience. the only way i figured it out was finding other people’s comments on the internet. Googled “metallic and bitter taste” and up popped a very long story about a person eating pine nuts and 2 days later the bitterness occured. Same for me. I tossed the nuts in the trash. Later I found a 2nd bag in the drawer and before tossing those it the trash I saw on the bag printed clearly, “may cause bitterness” or something like that. Here is my complaint with Trader Joe’s. If they did more research, they would probably find that pine nuts are not the problem. Most likely it is the source: that is, chemicals used (China) or substituting inedible pine nuts for edible. If i recall on the package it said the nuts come from Russia, Vietnam and someother place. Trader Joe’s should get their pine nuts from a reputable source!!!!

    By the way, it took several weeks before all the bitterness went away!!!

    1:39 pm  Feb 7th, 2013
  28. Pinenuts did it again!

    2 days ago took frozen Trader Joes pinenuts out of freezer and enjoyed them. (When I checked the date it was 2010- probably too long to keep them even for the freezer). Today, I experienced the yucky bitter taste in back of mouth – googled it and found this site. Now I am thankful that this will pass in a few days and I can enjoy my food thoroughly again!

    9:22 am  Nov 27th, 2013
  29. Jackie

    I am sure glad I found this information. I have been having a horrible taste on my tongue for the last few days. It worsens when I drink or eat something. I could not figure out what was causing it. Now that I have read what you stated, I have been eating pine nuts for the last several days in a salad. They are Frieda’s Brand and state Made in China. I bought these at a Kroger store in Michigan. I feel so much better knowing what is causing this horrid taste in my mouth. I hope it goes away soon. Thank you so much.

    1:12 pm  Dec 1st, 2013
  30. Dave

    I thought it might be a bitter pesticide on the Medjool dates I was eating, but when I goggled the words bitter, aftertaste, and Medjool I came up with “pine mouth”…. I also thought the bitterness might be coming from bananas, juiced tangerines, etc….

    Now I realize that the level of bitterness I have tasted when eating things (that are not spicy) has been going up and down over the last week or so as I have gone through about a half a bag (8oz/bag) of Trader Joes Raw Pignolias from Korea, Russia, and Vietnam. Spicy foods offer some relief. My guess is that this batch of pine nuts are repackaged from China.

    I remember tasting one bad pine nut but not bothering to spit it out. I wonder if it was rotten with a molecule similar to aflatoxin (tasteless).

    Perhaps the “pine mouth” molecules are not bitter until they are broken down in the liver. I don’t feel inflammation, so maybe the molecules are not carcinogenic. Maybe the bitterness is suggesting that the molecule prevents the metabolism of sugar or depletes the body of a needed nutrient. I’m just guessing here. In any event, this “pine mouth” condition does not seem healthy.

    I tried eating a bunch of celery to cleanse my palate but the dates still have a bitter aftertaste. Maybe if I go to they gym and work out then whatever this condition is might go through my system faster.

    I doubt I will ever risk eating pine nuts again.

    1:26 pm  Dec 9th, 2013
  31. Mcneila

    I have the pine mouth.2 days ago had one small handfull of pine nuts from Sam’s. Bitter/mean ugly taste with coffee and any food or drink. Tried drinking vinegar..burned my tongue. Just awful.

    9:20 pm  Feb 5th, 2014
  32. ROCKY (pilsen chicago)

    I’ve been pined! I woke up sunday morning with a bitter taste in my mouth.I had gone out with some friends the night before so i just figured it was from drinking to much alcohol.but when i woke up monday morning for work i still had the same taste so i started to worry about it.until i decided to finaly google as i sat in class a couple of minutes ago is when i found this page & got the answer to my problem and remembered that i had some pine nuts friday night around midnight i just think its weird how it took over 24 hours to take effect…something i definitely dont want to go through again…and happy its nothing crytical.PHEWWWW!!!

    3:19 pm  Mar 4th, 2014
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  35. Gaius Gracchus

    Yes, my spouse and I had the exact same symptoms after eating Chinese pine nuts from Winco. They sure are cheaper than the ones grown in the US, but we ended up thinking we’d been poisoned. Everything tasted bitter and horrible.
    The real worry was that my spouse, who has kidney problems, noticed severe kidney pain right after eating the nuts, as well.

    Of course the contaminated nuts are from China. No surprise there.

    9:52 pm  Dec 23rd, 2014
  36. S

    Trader Joe’s – reported to TJ’s & FDA. Over 5 weeks of symptoms. This is not a “easy way to diet”, it is life altering. This is not like asparagus, or any other reaction that is consistent over time. I have eaten pine/pinon nuts my entire life and never had an issue until now. I have also eaten TJ’s Mediterranean hummus many many times before (for years) and never had this issue. I have tried every remedy I have seen online in forms (listerine, gargling with peroxide, scraping & brushing my tongue, gum, oil pulls, tomato juice, lemons, charcoal, exposure to sweet and sour extremes, etc.). I have not tried anise or wonder fruit, but will today. I have done tons of online research about this and found some good resources, but no cure.

    7:17 am  May 15th, 2015
  37. Amanda

    Wow! I have that now, thank you so much, I thought there was something really wrong!

    6:44 am  Jun 23rd, 2015
  38. LEanna

    This just happened to me and my family. We were vacationing in new Mexico and stopped at a local Pizza place that served Pine nuts (Pinon) on the pizza.. So we indulged! This was Sunday, the Tuesday we all began experiencing the same naty taste in our mouth. Each thought nothing of it and it was not discovered until I mentioned to my husband the nasty taste and to his surprise, he said “me too!’ Then we got home and asked the kids (teens) if they have experienced a bad taste in their mouth and attempted to throw them off by asking “is it on the tip of your tongue” and they said “no, its at the back of my mouth” We called our doctor, who said it could be anything from a gas leak in our home, exposure to a natural gas leak in New Mexico (which was discovered), or exposure to something at a natural hot Springs that we indulged in while vacationing. But Pine Mouth seams to be a closer fit!!!!!!

    12:43 pm  Jul 8th, 2015
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