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Pine Mouth – is it on the rise?

Since I originally posted about my experience last summer of eating a pizza covered in pine nuts and suffering from a persistent bitter taste when eating anything afterwards, I’ve run across more mentions of Pine Mouth on food blogs. It seems like it is happening to more and more people. Everyone seems to point the finger at Chinese pine nuts, but no one can say why it happens. Some people speculate that the problem nuts are rancid, but in my case the pine nuts tasted just fine when I ate them. Some people speculate that the problem won’t happen if you toast the pine nuts first. I can’t recall if the pine nuts on the pizza were toasted. I don’t remember them rolling all over the place, so they must have at least been exposed to heat for 90 seconds or however long it took to wood-fire the pizza.

It’s puzzling. I’ve gotten a lot of comments from fellow sufferers on my post from last July. In case you are all in search of other information, here’s a collection of online posts I’ve run across recently:

The Kitchn: “Strange But True: Bitter Aftertaste from Pine Nuts?””
David Lebowitz: “Pine Nut Syndrome”
Epicurious: “Got Pine Mouth?”
Epicurious: “Pine Mouth Revisited”
Serious Eats: “Have You Ever Experienced Pine Mouth?”

Sufferers describe a bitter, soapy, or metallic taste after eating pine nuts. It can start immediately or it can take a couple of days to kick in (in my case it took about 36 hrs for the bitterness to kick in after I ate the pine nuts). The time delay can make it particularly hard to connect the bitter taste with the pine nuts. It can cause other foods and drinks to taste bitter while you eat them or just give them a bitter aftertaste. In my case the bitterness varied depending on the food or drink, but I only had a week to experiment and I wasn’t very rigorous about it.

I have had a few pine nuts on a salad and I’ve had a lot of pesto since my bout with pine mouth, and I haven’t had it happen again. Just to be safe, I may choose to make pesto with walnuts if I manage to get a good crop of basil going this year.

I hope scientists are paying attention. This is like the opposite of the “miracle fruit” that makes everything taste sweet (I’ve never had the opportunity to try it). Miracle fruit’s effect is very short compared to this pine nut effect. Miracle fruit apparently has a protein called miraculin that binds to our sweet receptors to make sour things taste sweet. I wonder if pine mouth is also related to a protein binding to taste receptors (shall we call it “bitterin”?). It must be different somehow, since the taste persists for so much longer.

If it ever happens to me again I’ll have to try some experiments. I’m not going to seek out pine nuts, though. I’m not that eager to suffer in the name of science.

One Response to “Pine Mouth – is it on the rise?”

  1. kirstin says:

    I just had a delicious salad that came with pine nuts. The pine nuts were some of the last things I ate on the salad since they didn’t stick to the lettuce very well. Shortly after eating the salad I drank from a can of soda and it tasted metallic. I poured it into a cup and took a sip, still metallic! Everything I drink tastes bitter and metallic. I only thought of the pine nuts because I know Erin and remembered the pine mouth conversation.

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