“Pine Mouth” – A Personal Account

The culprit?

The title of this post might sound like what might happen if you brush your teeth with pine needles, but it’s about a little known, mysterious ailment that occurs after eating some types of pine nuts.  It has happened to me, twice now, and it is exceedingly unpleasant!  Since I recently posted a recipe containing pine nuts, I thought the least I could do is offer a public service announcement in case this happens to you!  There’s nothing you can do about it, but at least you won’t go crazy wondering what is wrong with your mouth.

Several months ago, I suddenly developed a strange, bitter, metallic taste in my mouth.  I only noticed it when eating or drinking – and as you might guess, I spend a not insignificant amount of time eating and drinking.  The first time it occurred, it lasted maybe 3 days and I assumed it was a prelude to a sore throat or cold.  It went away, I never got sick…all seemed well.  Then it happened again.  The second time it lasted for over a week.  The bad taste is not subtle…I couldn’t taste my food, and even worse, wine tasted horrible!  I did some internet research with “the google” and found that many people have reported this problem after eating pine nuts.  I had been eating pine nuts…and dang it, I LOVE pine nuts!  Was this something else I’d never be able to eat?  Just last fall I had two episodes of my eyelids swelling after eating shrimp, and I haven’t had shrimp since for fear of a more violent reaction.  Giving up something else I love, such as traditional pesto sauce, just seemed unfair!

After more reading on the subject, it seems that this only happens with some pine nuts.  There have been fingers pointed at pine nuts imported from China, but so far there is no scientific evidence to link these nuts (or any nuts) with the syndrome.  Dozens of reports on the internet and complaints to the FDA about pine nut associated “taste disturbances”, however, suggest they are linked.  The effects of eating the pine nuts may even vary among individuals, because James did not develop metallogeusia (the medical term for a bitter metal taste in the mouth) after eating the nuts.  On the other hand, it may be dose dependent as he will eat just a few, while I will partake more heavily (ahem…).

I can’t offer any advice, except to be careful from where you purchase your pine nuts and try to avoid nuts imported from China.  The “bad” nuts that I ate seemed to be smaller, but I don’t know if that is a distinguishing characteristic.  The last nuts that I got, at Whole Foods in Santa Fe, have not affected me.  It is a little disturbing to eat them, knowing that I might face another experience with “Pine Mouth”!

For more information, here’s a article from 2010 in USA Today.



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