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?
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