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Is “Pine Nut Mouth” Real?

Is “Pine Nut Mouth” Real?

For me, there are two very unpleasant shocking discoveries that I associate with pine nuts (the edible seeds of pines — family Pinaceae, genus Pinus). The first would have to be shopping for pine nuts and finding an astronomical price tag that is nothing if not gourmet larceny (a local health food store sells them for $41 per lb.). The second bit of unpleasantness is when, after begrudgingly purchasing a few ounces for the price of a theater ticket, you disastrously burn every last one of them trying to toast them in the oven. For a longtime this was the extent of disappointment and hazard I associated with pine nuts, until I was left with an extremely terrible taste in my mouth…literally.

For those of you who haven’t heard, there is something called “pine nut mouth” which is a nasty metallic aftertaste that some people get after eating pine nuts. This aftertaste can linger for anywhere from a few hours to a few days, or weeks, which is something I found out first hand. I had some toasted pine nuts last spring along with a lemon pasta dish, and within 24 hours I was plagued with a bitter battery-like taste in my mouth, that didn’t subside for a few days. This phenomenon has been widely reported for over a decade now, and despite some creative theories (some people think the culprit may be a Chinese variety of pine nut, Pinus armandii) no one really knows what it is or why it only affects a certain portion of the population.

Recently, scientists at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration tried to solve the mystery by running pine nuts through a gas chromatograph, and testing the nut’s DNA for clues. 45 samples were used, including 17 that had been associated with cases of pine nut mouth. The results were inconclusive, as scientists discovered that most of the pine nuts sold in the United States come from a mix of species, making it near impossible, because of the jumble of nuts, to decipher whether there exists a singular element that is causing this phenomenon. And it remains unclear whether it is the nut, or a very particular sensitivity some people hold to certain oils and/or properties inherent in the pine nut (I could tell you it only happened to me once – thankfully). So the mystery endures.

While my experience with “pine nut mouth” was most unpleasant, it wasn’t enough to deter me from taking the risk and consuming more pine nuts on a semi-regular basis. Has anyone else had pine mouth? If so, what kind of pine nuts were they and, where did you buy them? Does something like this make you want to swear off pine nuts for good, or does it just convince you that some people are grossly unlucky, crazy, or both?

Related:
Pasta with Asparagus and Pine Nuts
Safety Nuts

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

93 comments

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9:35AM PDT on Sep 28, 2013

We use pine nuts every year to make pesto with basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. Since reading about the metallic taste that some people suffer with, I have been careful not to purchase pine nuts from China. I live in Greece, and fortunately, pine nuts from Turkey are easy to find (but not cheap). For the person who wants to know what to do with 1-1/2 pounds of pine nuts, I'd be happy to send my address!

11:47AM PDT on Sep 19, 2013

I love them but stopped buying them at Costco because they come from China...

6:05AM PDT on Sep 3, 2013

They are probably full of parasites, like all other nuts.

5:56PM PDT on Aug 10, 2013

I wonder if perhaps the soil or water is polluted with heavy metals or some other toxic chemical. As polluted as China is, it would seem logical that a pollutant with a strong odor or something could change the flavor of the nuts. Of course, I'm just guessing, and I have never experienced pine nut mouth.

6:03AM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

First time I even heard about it. It must be really upsetting... :(

10:48PM PDT on May 9, 2013

I hadn't heard of this wow

6:56PM PST on Feb 6, 2013

???

11:01AM PST on Dec 10, 2012

Thank you.

10:36PM PST on Dec 1, 2012

Thank you :)

5:39AM PDT on Oct 21, 2012

Thank you for the article...

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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I do not think we will ever know, far too much money involved

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