Watch Out for Ongoing Bitter Taste from Pine Nuts

Jul 262011
 

See those innocent-looking pine nuts? They can poison you! (Photo courtesy of Kent Cameron from A Food Centric Life blog.)

How much do you count on your taste buds, as a food writer? Do you use them every day, as a recipe tester, cook, restaurant reviewer, or just because you love to eat?

Then beware of pine nuts. They can ruin your tastebuds for weeks. Actually, they can poison you.

Last Thursday I ate pine nuts at lunch. The next day, a breakfast of fruit, yogurt and granola tasted especially bitter. Lunch was worse. All three dishes I sampled at a hip new neighborhood place were so bitter I could hardly eat them. While making dinner, I was temped to throw out my salmon chowder because of its metallic taste. It tasted like bad white wine. On a hunch, I asked my husband to sample a spoonful. “Really good,” he pronounced.

That’s when I knew something was wrong. Owen Googled “bitter taste in mouth” and found this article about “Pine Mouth Sydrome,” which can last up to a month. It’s a cruel thing to do to anyone in our business who reviews restaurants, or testing or develops recipes, or cooks.

I’m still figuring out what I can eat. I roasted cauliflower Sunday night, looking forward to its caramelized sweetness, but spit out my first taste. Plain green beans were horrible. Cereal and milk goes down fine, but it’s boring. And the metallic taste in my mouth when I wake up makes me think I’ve been eating cars in my sleep.

So if you you love pine nuts, or you want to make pesto this summer, you’re probably wondering whether pine nuts are safe to buy, and from where? Try expensive ones. In the past I’ve paid $28 per pound for pine nuts that looked like the long, slender ones in the photo above. They could have been from Italy or the US.

But buy ‘em cheaply and it’s buyer beware. According to USA Today, Costco has had “a few complaints” about their pine nuts, but couldn’t get to the bottom of it in lab tests. (Here’s more about Costco pine nuts on Chowhound.) I bought mine toasted at Trader Joe’s, where the package said the nuts might have come from Korean, Russia or Vietnam. The pine nuts were tiny, by the way — nothing like the ones in the photo. When I took the opened bag back and complained to a store supervisor, he said the Food and Drug Administration says pine nuts are safe for consumption, while also stating that they “affect one in every 20 people.” That seems like a lot to me. (Coincidentally, guess who else was affected by Trader Joe’s pine nuts? Nicole of Pinch my Salt.)

When it comes to making pesto, you might also skip pine nuts altogether. I made a traditional Genovese pesto from a recipe in Saveur’s current issue, using walnuts soaked in hot water for an hour.

So, has Pine Mouth Syndrome happened to you or anyone you know? Might you try other nuts instead, from now on? Or are you taking your chances, perhaps with more expensive pine nuts?

* * *

Update: I sent an email to Trader Joe’s through the website and got this reply:

We are fully aware of the issue concerning this product. In addition, there has been
ongoing research and investigation into this matter by the FDA, and as
what is occuring is reported a naturally occuring situation with the
pine nuts, and does not pose any specific health concern, we do
currently still offer this product in our stores. In addition, as this
occurrence seems to experienced by some customers, while not with
others, the pine nuts have indeed been determined to be safe for
consumption.

We want to assure you that if we had any cause for concern regarding the
safety of any product that we sell, we would immediately remove the
product from our store shelves and let our customers know of the reason
for this action. However, the occurrence has not been linked to any sort
of contamination, pesticides or heavy metals as has also been reported
on some internet sources. Some of the pine nuts involved in some of the
cases reported were from China, and most recently from Russia, as well.
As a result of this latest information, we have discontinued sourcing
any of our products from Russia. Again, there is no conclusive link to
any particular species or source country. In addition, we are updating
our product labeling to inform our customers of this possible occurrence
with the product.

  143 Responses to “Watch Out for Ongoing Bitter Taste from Pine Nuts”

  1. Yes! I had pine mouth last fall and it was awful! For almost a week I couldn’t eat anything without that bitter taste. Ick.

    Since then I have avoided cooking with pine nuts at home. I have come across them when dining out or with friends and fortunately the acrid taste hasn’t recurred.

    • Oh wow. It lasted a week. Still, that is better than a month. And I’m sure you’re wary of them now when dining out.

      I guess a few stray ones on top of food for garnish won’t hurt. I ate a lot — maybe 1/4 cup, because they were so good.

  2. I don’t know anything about pine mouth syndrome, but I’m generally avoiding pine nuts lately because of the price…$44/lb at my local natural food store ;)
    Hope you can enjoy food again soon Diane!

    • That is INCREDIBLE. Where do you shop, young lady? How can they justify that price?

      Thanks, Winnie. It’s a little better today.

  3. Oh my gosh! Good to know Dianne. Thanks for posting this info. I do hope your taste buds heal and improve and that awful metallic taste goes away. I had a metallic taste in my mouth awhile ago and could not figure out why. Lasted for days, then went away. I cannot remember what I ate. I will certainly be more aware of where I buy my pine nuts, where they are from, etc. In fact, I am going to the fridge to look at my package right now. I do make pesto with walnuts as well. Never tried the soaking method. I do soak almonds for homemade almond milk.

    • Sorry to make you nervous, but I bet that was why you had a bad taste in your mouth. Almonds are safe, as far as I know.

      Thanks again for letting me use the photo.

  4. Oh, I’m sorry. I know several people who have gotten pine mouth, and I may have poisoned someone with it in the past. I now only buy pine nuts that are sourced from Europe. It’s ridiculously expensive, but worth it, in my opinion.

  5. Yikes, I’d never heard of this syndrome! I adore pesto and eat it on a regular basis – fingers crossed it’s not a major problem in the UK yet…

    • I bet it is a problem there as well, because the UK imports pine nuts, just as we do. I haven’t heard anyone complaining about European nuts, though. Don’t know if that’s wishful thinking or because the nuts from Italy do not cause this problem.

  6. Dianne, Bummer! I hope this doesn’t wreck your taste buds for the whole summer. I’ve often seen those cheaper nuts and wondered about them; now I know. I think I might try almonds in my basil pesto if I don’t want to pony up for the hefty price of pine nuts. I’ve heard of potty mouth, but pine mouth? sounds like it would be harder to cure (my mom used soap to cure the former)!

  7. You’ll actually find this is quite a common effect from ingredients with naturally occurring oils. Sage is another good example. When you eat the pine nuts raw, their strong flavour chains, stored in the oils, coat the tastebuds and palate, making it hard to taste anything. You can get a minor version of this with walnuts, which also sustain bitterness and close down the other parts of the palate.
    There is a simple solution which is to lightly toast (grill or fry) sage, pine nuts, walnuts – anything with inherent oils – which releases the oils and breaks down the bitter flavours.
    I’m not claiming any scientific basis for this beyond flavour chains (esters), simply that some foods need to be broken down to be palatable.
    See what you think.

    • Good theory, but I bought mine toasted. That’s the only way they were available from the store. Maybe they had the same idea.

  8. Yes, the Pine Mouth Syndrome! First time I read about it was on David Lebovitz’ blog. I can’t prevent myself from eating pine nuts (I love their taste!) but I’m always a bit weary and I can’t help but wonder when I’m going to use a bad batch. Pine nuts are expensive so cheap pine nuts coming from Asia are tempting. I think they may not be harvested as carefully as Italian or American pine nuts (there’s a reason why Asian pine nuts are so inexpensive even after such a long trip over, right?) As you say, a good trick is to choose long, slender nuts that have a clean, fresh smell. I also always buy organic ones and so far, I was lucky! Carefully choosing pine nuts raises the grocery bill but I believe a little goes a long way.

    • Forgot to say: I hope your tastebuds get better really soon! How annoying!

      • Thank you. It is really frustrating. I’d like to say it’s an excuse to lose weight, but that would be too good to be true.

    • Hmm. I read David’s blog and somehow missed that one. You are smart to buy organic. I do so with meats and produce, sometimes nuts, but I have been put off by the high prices. Not any more. I’m not sure it’s about the way it’s harvest — it may be a fungus, or a variety that is not really edible. TJs took them off the shelves for months but recently put them back. I ate my way through a whole previous bag without any consequence.

  9. I’ve never heard of Pine Mouth Syndrome, either. I’m quite worried, because I took a bottle of pine nuts from my parents house, in which they rarely shop at organic food stores. After reading this post, I researched the manufacturer for the origin of the pine nuts. Of course, someone wrote about them, because the brand caused the writer to have Pine Mouth Syndrome. Normally, I buy them in small quantities from a natural/health food store, because they are quite expensive. Luckily, I like using walnuts instead of pine nuts when making basil pesto. And, now… I have to call my parents to warn them.

    • Hmm. I’m afraid so. Although Pine Mouth Syndrome doesn’t affect everyone, all the time. Still, I wouldn’t want to take the chance. I quite liked the walnut version of the pesto I made. It doesn’t seem like a sacrifice to me.

  10. …and I just updated two posts on my site mentioning to buy American or Italian pine nuts and not cheap imports, also included information links.

  11. I sympathize!!
    When I got Pine Mouth last fall, it was the most puzzling phenomenon, since I had never experienced it before, and have enjoyed pine nuts my whole life. I thought I was getting sick, and even wondered if I had caused a strange reaction by eating wild mushrooms cooked with wine. Then a friend described exactly what I was experiencing and told me about Pine Mouth Syndrome. No more Trader Joes pine nuts for me – not a good deal!! Mine lasted just over a week…good luck to you for a speedy recovery.

    • Yes, a lot of people have no idea what’s happening to them. Then you look on line and start telling people and suddenly it seems like everyone has had it! I’m actually doing better today, thanks. Hope it’s on the wane.

  12. Some good “scientific” info with lots of pix and info on what to buy and avoid
    http://pinenutsyndrome.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/the-ones-to-avoid/

  13. YES! It happened to a friend at work and I thought she was exaggerating. She gave me her bottle (I didn’t need any. Have plenty in the freezer but I wanted to see what the fuss was about) and low and behold, I noticed a bitter taste the next day. But it quickly dissipated for me. Thank goodness! Not so quickly for my friend. I’m a believer now.

    Her bottle was a cheap supermarket bottle. I do have a bag of toasted pine nuts from Trader Joe’s. I’ve been using them for a few weeks now and all is ok. I keep all nuts in the freezer. I wonder if that helps? Who knows?

    • You’ll have to show her this post! Maybe she thought she was crazy too. I can sympathize.

      I don’t know if it helps to keep the nuts in the freezer, but I did so with the last bag and didn’t have a problem. You are lucky that your symptoms didn’t last.

  14. Pine nuts are just one of those items that you really have to be willing to pay the piper to protect yourself. I just returned from a trip to Paris and in my suitcase? A full Kilo of pine nuts. A few garnish nuts on a restaurant item shouldn’t put you at risk, but if you, like me, love to make pesto and baked goods with the little treasures, then you should absolutely make sure that they are not sourced from China or other Asian countries. And definitely avoid the Costco packages, so tempting because of the price tag, but from China and with the highest reports of Pine Mouth.

    • I can only imagine how many Euros you shelled out for that much, Stacey. Hope you are safe with them.

  15. Dianne, so very sorry to hear about this. Sure hope it doesn’t last much longer for you. I stopped buying pine nuts last year when I first started hearing about this syndrome. (Lengthy discussion on ASFS listserv about it.) Didn’t want to risk my mouth or anyone else’s that I cook for and I just can’t justify the cost of American or European pinenuts. Since then, I’ve made good pestos with pecans and walnuts, but find the closest replacement to be slivered almonds (that aren’t toasted).

  16. I am so glad I read this today! I had heard of Pine Mouth before but I didn’t know it was so much worse with nuts sourced from Asia. I had a small container of supermarket pine nuts in the fridge, I just went to check and yes, they’re from China. I hate to throw out food, especially on a tight budget, but I ditched them. Not worth the risk, I think. I’ll just make pesto with walnuts or nut-free this year. Thanks for the warning!

    • You’re welcome. I hate to throw out food too. And it’s possible you may not be affected. But this is the safest option.

  17. That’s horrible! Almost as debilitating as a stomach bug in this profession. Pine nuts appear pretty often in local foods over here in the Mideast, but I’ve never had any problems, and I’ve only ever read about it — it’s certainly not the stuff of urban legends around here. I wonder if ours are being processed differently due to the high demand/turnover.

  18. I eat pinenuts in Provence, France and never had a problem…..maybe they come from Italy. I wonder whether they get rancid or something. Seems like it could be a good way to lose weight (if you wanted to!).

  19. I’m glad you posted this. I was thinking about making some pesto with my overabundance of basil. Saved my taste buds and some money.

  20. Thanks for posting this warning. Pesto is one of my favorite foods. I will be careful of the pignolis I buy from now on. Trader Joe’s “deals” are often suspicious.

  21. Dianne,
    I can’t think of a worse affliction for a food writer and I feel for you. Like many food writers, there’s a delicate health balance between eating properly and just eating because of the love of food. I’m happy with the few extra pounds I carry on my hips because of my love for food, but I honestly envy you for the chance to have a mini-cleanse. (But this is another blog post, right?)

    I just wanted to thank you for posting this info. I have been nuturing fresh basil in my community garden for weeks for a big batch of pesto. I planned to use toasted walnuts instead of pine nuts and now I’m DEFINITELY going to use walnuts.

    • Thanks. It is actually getting better, so I’m hopeful it won’t last for four weeks. It did make me less interested in eating, I confess, and resulted in a very slight weight loss. Still too much junk in the trunk, if you know what I mean. Definitely a different blog post.

      Apparently walnuts are also traditional in pesto, event though all the recipes suggest pine nuts. Go for it!

  22. This is really curious! I’ve never heard of this. Maybe living in France we automatically get our pine nuts from Italy? I will be looking now. I have never experienced this… well, I may have, I mean, would I have even ever considered that it would have been the pine nuts? My husband has a horrible reaction from walnuts – most but not all. He figured out that it depended on how they were treated before packaging. Same thing?

    • There are theories about that, but I don’t think so. I think it has to do with the particular variety, which is inferior. You probably get yours from Italy, Jamie. So close!

  23. Dear Diane,

    The phenomenon you describe is interesting (from the physician’s perspective, not the patient’s..) I have written to a legend in the scientific world of taste researchers, Dr. Linda Bartoshuk. I described the problem and am hopeful she may have insight into how to restore normal taste more rapidly. As you know the tongue has multiple taste receptors, salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste_bud

    Also remember up to 25% may be supertasters. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste_bud

    INow you imagine somehow paralyzing the sweet , salty and other receptors you might be experiencing the effects in an exaggerated response. Very interesting puzzle to sort out. I hope she reads your blog and responds. Sincerely, Mary Wilson

  24. Unfortunately I can’t find the article back, but I read some time ago they found the cause for ‘pine mouth’. Apparently it’s caused by an inedible Asian type of pine nut, that regularly gets mixed in with the edible ones, because they’re so cheap (being inedible and all that).

    • After looking a bit further I think the article was probably a simplified rendition in our local (dutch) newspaper of this article:
      “Identification of the Botanical Origin of Commercial Pine Nuts Responsible for Dysgeusia by Gas-Liquid Chromatography Analysis of Fatty Acid Profile”. Journal of Toxicology 2011: 1’967. doi:10.1155/2011/316789. PMC 3090612. PMID 21559093. http://downloads.hindawi.com/journals/jt/2011/316789.pdf.

      Pinus Armandii is the suspected species, but my memory of this article seems to be somewhat incorrect.
      Have fun if you’re going to read this….
      They did also examine a sample of ‘Siberian’ pine nuts
      Maybe labelled by the same people who thought up ‘Scottish whisky-wine, made with real imported Scottish grapes.’

      • Very good read that succinctly describes the problem. Not to technical either. The problem is consumers don’t know which variety of pine nuts they are getting. It doesn’t say on the package. Thanks for the link, Marcelle.

  25. Dianne, This happened to me! Last year I bought expensive pine nuts from a high end grocer that looked just like the ones in your photo. I toasted them and tossed them with roasted garlic and green beans. After eating them, I had a bitter taste in my mouth for 4-5 days. It was awful. I found the same info online that you did but couldn’t trace the origin of my nuts. I love pine nuts but will never eat them again.

  26. Hi Diane,
    Long time reader, first time commenter.
    Oh no! I have a big bag of the Costco pine nuts in my fridge as we speak! Otherwise pine nuts are so ridiculously expensive. I didn’t notice they came from China though, I thought they were from Turkey. I do toast them first and I keep them in the fridge. I can’t say I’ve ever noticed the bitter taste afterwards, but now i’m a little paranoid and will keep a closer eye.
    Thanks.
    Michelle

  27. What Dianne did not mention here is that I printed out the recent article on the problem from ABC news (Dianne’s link above), and took a copy with us to the Trader Joe’s store to return the nuts. In that article, they mentioned that the FDA was still looking into the problem, and were trying to collect more samples of the nuts that caused the issue in order to discover what exactly was the issue. I hoped that the TJ manager would do the right thing and contact the FDA, and recommend that as well.

    He said he would not. Not only did he make several excuses, he refused my request to see to it that TJs forward the sample to the FDA. He simple said that the FDA had “… tested TJs pine nuts in the past, and that they were ‘safe for consumption’ …” so he would do nothing. When asked how many people have complained, and he said “Oh, about one in twenty”, I was amazed. Trader Joe’s is basically poisoning 5% of their customers, and do not seem to really care.

    While I did not eat the nuts myself, you could say that this incident and the way Trader Joe’s handled it has left a bad taste in my mouth too!

  28. Hi Diane,

    A few years ago I bought pine nuts that were as you say bitter and as you my taste was ruined for a few hours but not more tnan that. Since then I am always scared to buy the wrong pine nuts and I use walnuts instead of pine nuts in my pesto. Pine nuts are so expensive I do not think it is worth the taste and chance to get bad quality nut for our cooking.

    Micheline

  29. I was familiar with the metallic pine nut issue, but I haven’t had it happen to me. However, for pesto I often use sunflower seeds. They actually taste great in pesto and are a million times cheaper!

    • Wow, I have not heard of that before, Alisa. I will have to try sunflower seeds in pesto. I’ve tried pecans, which are great, but definitely more expensive.

      • My version is cheese-free too, but I use a little more salt to compensate for the Parmesan. Not traditional, but delicious and always devoured! And VERY cheap compared to traditional pesto with pine nuts AND parmesan.

  30. I read of this syndrome a couple of years ago; probably just happened upon it when I was doing a search for a dish with pine nuts. If I recall, it seemed more prevalent in nuts from China. I buy all of my nuts from Costco and though I’ve never had a problem and didn’t worry much about it, the price recently has made them a non issue.

    I’ve been making walnut pesto for some time and I totally love it. I thought I would miss pine nuts in salads but toasted walnuts have taken their place and soon I won’t feel a twinge of sadness when I walk by that bag at Costco and see $19.99 listed as the price!

    • And that is a very inexpensive price for pine nuts, too. My little bag at Trader Joe’s cost $7.99.

      • I know…except that last year the same bag was $11.99 so it was a killer increase. I guess a shortage has seen the price skyrocket and it seems that once it does, it never comes back down again even if circumstances change. I might have to cave…I sure do miss them on salads.

  31. Dianne I’m so sorry to hear that. I’ve never heard of that before with pine nuts and eat them all the time and put them in my pesto. That said I think there are numerous issues with nuts we aren’t aware of until we encounter issues like you had.

    Recently while vacationing in Colorado I purchased almonds that were on special at City Market. I ate some and was so sick for 3 days. One of them I recall tasting rancid. Well that was all it took. Another time I purchased raw nuts from a high end store in St Louis that I’d planned to roast and make candied pecans with. I used most of them but didn’t finish the entire batch, leaving them in the zip lock baggie, in my cupboard.

    I get a call from my husband while out running errands and he says the cabinet is filled with maggets and bugs that are coming out of the pecan bag. I called the store and they told me raw nuts MUST be used within a week otherwise bugs that have laid eggs on them start to hatch. Of course I was ready to vomit hearing this. When asked about ingesting these she said the acid in our system kills them.

    I’ve never looked at a nut the same since then and don’t trust them. My cabinet was so infested that day it was revolting.

    Long story short – Never trust a nut!

    • This is just horrible, Vicki. I have thrown out stale and rancid nuts, and even rancid nut oils, but I’ve never heard of this. Really gross. I keep raw nuts and seeds in the house all the time. I’d better go check on them. So far I have not had a problem.

      • I know Dianne it was pretty hard to swallow when she told me that. This was from a high end wine and cheese store in town called The Wine & Cheese Place. I purchase most of my nuts, wines and cheese from them and this had never happened. I was so totally stunned to hear that bugs always lay eggs on nuts in the manufacturing plants and it takes weeks or maybe longer, I’ll have to check, before the eggs hatch. If you roast the nuts right away there’s not an issue since they are destroyed from the heat, but if you leave them to sit like I did with the portion I didn’t use, you stand the chance of the eggs hatching – resulting in a cabinet full of revolting bugs. Ugg!

        The icing on the cake was when she told me that if I ate them raw the eggs would be destroyed from the acid in my system.

        I recall getting online to verify this and it was accurate. I’ll see if I can find that info again and when I do, I’ll forward you the link. I’m trying to remember if I posted it on my blog. I’ll check.

        Sorry for the disgusting news. Hope you feel better soon.

  32. Very timely post, Dianne! I just made a huge batch of pesto last weekend to use up some of the basil from my garden, and I’ve eaten it a few times since. I’ve been noticing an odd, metallic taste in my mouth for several days, and been complaining that certain foods taste funny to me. I used pine nuts from the supermarket, and I’m guessing that they are the culprit. I’d heard of pine nut syndrome before, but wasn’t thinking about it when I made my pesto as I’ve never had an issue with the nuts before. Live and learn!

    • So you have it too! So sorry to hear that, Susan. My “syndrome” is finally getting better, but I still have a terrible taste in my mouth all the time. I figured that with so much basil in the farmer’s market and in gardens, this would be a timely post.

  33. A local fellow who follows my blog had this issue and I looked it up. I am now wary of buying bulk pine nuts and also look for the ones which are grown in China and try to avoid them. The nuts which are smaller and aren’t plump looking, but seem a little skinny or undernourished are the ones which may give you issues. I don’t think I’ve ever had this problem (knock on wood…) and hopefully never will as I love my pesto. You could also try and use pistachios in pesto as well. They work nicely as do walnuts (as you mentioned). Thanks for reminding me of this. :)

    • I thought about trying pistachios — maybe next time. I think your instincts are good about which nuts to avoid. Also go with whatever is expensive. I hate that idea but I think it’s going to work.

  34. I’m such a fan of your blog and so sorry to hear that your tastebuds are temporarily disabled! A couple of friends dealt with Pine Mouth Syndrome this winter — I’ve passed this link on to them to see if they might have recommendations on what they were able to eat. How is your sense of smell holding up? I wonder if food that smells strongly might somewhat override the metallic taste. Or you could give the Miracle Berry a try: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/03/miracle-berry/
    Here’s to a quick recovery!

    • Oh thank you, Carla. My sense of smell seems fine. It’s all in the mouth. I definitely need some of those miraculin berries, but somehow I don’t think I can buy them anywhere. Quite a name to live up to, BTW.

      Thanks for the terrific link. We food people could use a product like that in our kitchens.

  35. Does anyone know if the bad taste from the Chinese pine nuts is due to the pine variety or from some chemical that is used to treat the nuts before shipping to export markets? Here in Spain, where we have native pine nuts, the Chinese ones are sold as well. As Dianne says, they are much smaller than the long, slender Mediterranean variety.

    • According to the paper that Marcel supplied, it seems that a specific variety is causing the problem. Everyone keeps saying they are from China, but if you read the note from Trader Joe’s in the update, the nuts can come from other countries, especially Russia.

  36. Diane,
    I’ve never expereinced your pine nut situation, but I have heard of it. I can tell you that here in Dallas, pine nuts are $35.00 a pound. That’s more than beef tenderloin! Fortunately, it only takes a small amount for pesto. I wonder, from a scientific standpoint, if it’s just the pine nuts or the pinenuts in comb with other ingredients. Is this like people who have an aversion to cilantro?

    • True, but less than Winnie is paying in upstate New York ($44). I feel for you both! I don’t think you have to combine pine nuts with another ingredient to get the syndrome, but interesting question.

  37. Dianne,
    Another thought. Were the pine nuts that you ate toasted? I always toast my nuts before using them in any recipe – especially pesto. It brings out the falvor and may “cook” away any chemical component that causes your recaction. I noticed that someone bought pinenuts already toasted. That’s something I wouldn’t do. Anyway, it’s just a thought. Pesto can be made with any nut, so that’s your option.

  38. Oh, I am so sorry Dianne! I heard about this (particularly in reference to the Trader Joe’s pine nuts) earlier this year. There is a theory floating around that Asian pine nuts are culprits, although no one knows why. Regardless, ever since, I’ve avoided all of them. Which is sad, because I love pine nuts. And, as a side note, I have always made my pesto with toasted walnuts–delish! So, I don’t have to suffer from no pesto, at least. But, I hope your taste buds get back to normal soon. Gah.

    • Thank you, Jeanne. They are already a little better, thank goodness. In the update above, TJ’s says pine nuts from both China and Russia are the problem.

      I like to toast nuts when I use them in recipes too. It always brings out their flavor.

  39. The same thing happened to my fiance and I last year. I bought the pine nuts from Whole Foods. The bitter taste also afflicted us for a month, partly because we did not know the cause and ate more pesto!

    The metallic taste is horrible, constant and everything tasted horrid. I also googled, and came across the common enough cause of it. I have done my best to avoid pine nuts since then! My sympathies!

  40. I quit using pine nuts a while back due to their high cost. Instead I use walnuts (soaked or not), pepitas or pistachios. Each make a nice pesto. And if I don’t have any nuts, I don’t use any and it still tastes great. I’m lucky in that I haven’t experienced pine nut bitterness like you and the others. Hope it goes away soon Dianne!

    On the Trader Joe’s front, I stopped shopping there due to their unwillingness to pay an extra penny a pound for tomatoes to support pickers.

    • Lynn, thanks. I guess there are a million ways to make pesto. Saveur has a good story about that this month.

      V. interesting about the extra penny per pound. I am a long-time shopper and stopping would be a big sacrifice for me, but I have Barry Estabrook’s book on the subject and it might be worth it.

  41. That’s awful! I have heard about this ‘phenomenon’ before, I believe it is a neurological condition caused by pine nuts from Asia. I love pine nuts and they are so nutritious but the health risk and price aren’t worth buying them anymore.

  42. I had this same problem but it ended up being from canned air dusters that you use on computers instead of pine nuts. Check out the site here Bitter Taste In Mouth . But the next time I ate pine nuts I noticed that they also cause it a little.

    • Wow, never heard of that one. I will have to tell my husband because he uses those canned air things. Thanks, Mike.

  43. OMG, how maddening! And what a ridiculously long and meaningless response from Trader Joe’s. Does one have to be admitted to the ER or die before they’ll remove a product? Do they post any kind of caveat about the pine nuts? Sheesh!

    • The problem is that it’s not “serious” unless you’re someone in our profession, apparently. I haven’t read about anyone who’s going to die from it or go to the ER. But I have heard from a lot of people who visited their doctor and dentist and got nowhere. In the update above, TJ’s says they’re going to “update their product info” about this problem. That’s something, at least.

  44. I’m shocked to read about this. Glad I decided to be cheap long ago and have been using almonds or walnuts in lieu of pine nuts. I will pass this on to others. Thanks for posting.

  45. I have never made pesto with pine nuts for no other reason than COST. I eye them often at Costco and at my health food store, but they are just so frightfully expensive. As much as I love pesto, it tastes delicious to me with walnuts (or even pecans!, in a pinch). Hearing about your experience, I don’t think I’ll ever be tempted to make pesto with pine nuts ever again! And thanks for the tip about soaking the walnuts. I will try that next batch I make!

    • YOu have to plan in advance. I didn’t and the basil oxidized quite a bit while the nuts finished soaking. I tried it with toasted pecans as well and it was excellent.

  46. This happened to me! It was the strangest sensation, and I thought I was losing my mind. After some googling I learned that Costco pine nuts were the culprit. It started gradually. About 2 days after eating them, I noticed a strange metallic taste whenever I ate. The taste got stronger and peaked on the third day, and then gradually dissipated by the end of the week. I didn’t even eat that many! I just sprinkled some over my salad at a family member’s home.

    • Really! I ate a whole quarter cup of them. They were so creamy and crunchy. But you only ate a few and had the same reaction. Wow.

  47. Dianne – David Lebovitz wrote about his experience with this phenomenon last year – http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/04/pine-nut-syndrome/ – and I’ve been very wary of them ever since. He got his in Paris, so it looks as though the Europeans are not immune. I’ve not heard any first-hand accounts here in Oz, but I try to buy decent quality pine nuts when I get the option, just in case. I do hope that your case only lasts a week – a whole month would be too much to bear.

  48. WOW- I’ve never heard of this before! Makes me thankful that we are a nut-free household (my three year old is allergic to peanuts and treenuts). It sounds just awful- not to mention scary seeing how many others have experienced the same thing. Aye carumba.

    I love all the suggestions for an alternative to using pine nuts when making pesto. Now I’m inspired to make some using pumpkin seeds!!

    Hope your tastebuds return to normal soon! That’s just….well, NUTS.

  49. Far out?! I have never heard of this before. Thanks for highlighting this problem, just goes to show there is really no good to come out of mass produced lower grade produce.

    Now, if only the Italian ones were a reasonable price…..

  50. I’ve never heard of pine mouth before. Thanks for the education. Maybe this is something I should consider as a weight loss program???

  51. If I only knew for sure this would end I might be able to forgive! I ate bad pine nuts (and not that many) on May 7, 2011 and developed the metallic mouth on May 9th. The metallic taste eventually went away BUT I still do not have my complete sense of taste back yet and I’m writing this on July 28, 2011! I have gone thru all the steps of seeing my PCP and an ENT and even tried an acupuncturist – all to no avail. Just to be safe I am going to have an MRI done but then that’s where I draw the line with doctors. I have done a lot of reading on pine mouth syndrome and have never come across anyone who has had it last as long as I have (with only having eaten them just the one time). Am I the only one and why has it affected me like this? Will I ever get my complete sense of taste back? Trying to cook meals is so hard these days I don’t really like cooking any more (and I used to really enjoy trying new recipes).

  52. Ugh. Do we know if Costco & TJ’s are taking the nuts back? I JUST bought a bag a couple of weeks back and used maybe 1 tablespoon to garnish a dish. Reading some of those comments it makes me nerovus to use anymore and also annoying as even when you get them at a more bargain price like at TJ’s they are still not cheap.

  53. Interesting. I’ve never experienced that problem with pine nuts, but I do experience something very similar after eating fresh pineapple; its effect lasts for several hours at least. Weird, huh?

    Since pine nuts have become so ridiculously expensive, I’ve been using sunflower seeds or walnuts in my pesto instead. I even tried it with pistachios, but that was decidedly not a big hit; something about the texture didn’t seem to work well in pesto, and the flavor kind of clashed. Granted that pesto is not quite the same without the pine nuts, but if you make sure to use excellent cheese, good olive oil, and fresh garlic in your pesto it’s still pretty darn good.

    • Absolutely, Jane. I’ve learned in the comments that there are tons of ways to make pesto. I contemplated pistachios but thought they might be odd. It’s good to have confirmation.

      Re the pineapple, I’ve heard that before, and about other foods too. My husband says walnuts “bite” the inside of his mouth. But those things are quite temporary compared to days on end of this metallic, bitter taste.

  54. Hi Dianne,

    I just made pesto sauce to go with our pasta recently and my children complained of putting too much pine nuts. My son specifically pointed out that it tasted like there was peanut butter on it. I used the normal ratio of the basil, parmegiano reggiano, olive oil, and pine nuts as I usually did and to me it was just right. I checked the expiry date of the pine nuts and it was fine. I store my nuts and oils in my refrigerator to extend their shelf life and also to keep them from turning rancid.

    Thanks for posting this article. It’s good to know and share with others the experiences we encounter with some unique edible ingredients we conceive as safe to eat. and approved ny FDA for human consumption.

    Chris

    • That’s so odd, considering you made the recipe the way you always do. But then, even when I make things over and over, they turn out a little different each time.

      I guess from the FDA’s standpoint, these type of pine nuts are not going to kill you, and they don’t affect everyone. So it’s not so bad. Just incredibly annoying.

  55. So sorry you’re been stricken, Dianne! A nasty fate for anyone, but a professional disaster for a Foodie Writer. I recall reading an article a couple of years ago about this problem and that it WAS a particular species of pine nut from a cheaper source, but I can’t remember any more than that. So Trader Joe saying it isn’t linked to a particular species sounds to me like they really didn’t care to do their own research. Also, they should at least give you a refund! Sigh….

    • Thanks Dorothy. Hope it goes away soon. Trader Joe’s did refund my money. They’re really good about giving money back if you don’t like a product. Wish it was that easy, though.

  56. This happened to me quite recently. I bought roasted pine nuts from Trader Joe’s and used them in a pasta salad 10 days ago. I experienced no problems until 2 days after eating the salad. Now everything I eat or drink leaves a bitter aftertaste in the back of my mouth. Hopefully the problem will abate in another week or so as the various web sites that discuss pine mouth promise.

    ….no more Trader Joe’s pine nuts for me.

    • Me either! It’s been over a week for me, and I still have the bitter taste in my mouth. At longer food no longer tastes inedible, just off or sour.

  57. I live outside of Rome, where Pin Nuts, literally, grow on trees. Actually, we pick-up the pine cones from the tall, flat palm-like mediterranean pine trees and my husband spends an hour cracking all the seeds out of their pods – to get us half a cup of pine nuts!

    Pine nuts can go rancid fairly “quickly”. Whether expensive or not, get the “freshest” pine nuts you can (like from a store that has a quick tun-around) and and store them in the refrigerator in a glass vase. I read some similar discussions on this topic and some have mentioned a pine taste… that is completely normal and a sign of fresh pine nuts – that IS what they taste like when fresh out of the pine cone!

    Perhaps I’m just lucky but i my 25 years of cooking with pine nuts in the U.S. I have never had this problem!!!

    Ciao,

    L

    • How wonderful to go out and forage for pine nuts, Laura. They must taste incredible when fresh from the tree. The piney taste you mention sounds normal to me. Here in the US we are getting a different variety of pine nuts from abroad, and that must be the problem.

      • Diane.. foraging sounds so romantic! The Mediterranean pines are street trees here and even problematic if a pine cone falls on a parked car you will get a nice dent or broken windshield!

        I definitely agree with you, if your palette is at risk, ONLY go with Italian Pine Nuts!

        Ciao,

        L

        P.S. Did you go back to the restaurant to tell them about the problem to check their Pine Nuts for rancidity?

        P.P.S. I think you stumbled on a new diet! ; )

        • Okay, you’re right. It is much less romantic than I envisioned. Re P.S. I took the bag of toasted pine nuts back to the store and sent them an email. At the bottom of my post is Trader Joe’s response. And P.P.S. Yes, I did lose a pound or two. Saving grace.

  58. I had pine nut mouth last summer after eating Trader Joe’s pine nuts. Nothing tasted right for weeks! If I make pesto this summer, it will be with walnuts or with pine nuts from Italy.

  59. Almost two years ago I had pine nut mouth (twice) and have not eaten pine nuts since. Both times lasted about two weeks, and they were miserable ones. I didn’t figure out what the problem was until the second time it happened, and I researched and then realized that I had eaten pine nuts before both episodes. The upside was that I lost weight both times. :) Since then, I’ve been using walnuts in my pesto. No problems there!

  60. This is very helpful I have the same problem and do think it’s better when they’re bought from Italy through a specialty purveyor. Mostly, however, I use almonds or pistachios for pesto. Delicious!

    • Sorry to hear you have the same problem, El. I have not tried either nut for pesto and will have to give them a whirl. Thanks.

  61. I myself think pesto is so last century, but if it is what you like then I say good eats! I like to keep it simple, though I do from time to time endeavor to the complex side as I love to cook complex dishes to show off my culinary skills to my good friends, but practically speaking this is a non-starter for daily cooking.

    Please visit my food blog at http://www.grateful-gourmet.com for simple and tastey recipes that will please everyone!

  62. I just finished making pesto; in fact that is next Monday’s post. I will surely make note ot this Pine Mouth Syndrome. I have a Food Saver and keep all my nuts vaccum sealed. I once made pesto with almonds and it was great.
    Rita

    • Yes, there are lots of links in my post, in the comments, and in the linked pieces. Great idea to vacuum seal the nuts. I keep most of mine in the freezer.

  63. I recently had some bad pine nuts at a very well respected restaurant, and the rest of the dinner was ruined. As was dessert. As was the rest of my night. AUGH!
    I let the chef know, and he had no idea. My husband had the same reaction to the pine nuts at dinner, so I know it wasn’t in my head. I almost want to swear off pine nuts altogether. I like to put mac nuts in pesto these days.

    • That is weird that it hit you so fast. Mine took a few days to take effect. I hope the bitter mouth didn’t last long.

  64. I am a lawyer in San Francisco and we are looking for individuals who have experienced an aftertaste or other adverse reactions from eating Pine Nuts from Trader Joe’s. Particularly, we are seeking San Francisco Bay Area folks who can provide us with information about when and where they purchased the pine nuts, the symptoms they experienced, whether they still have the pine nuts, and whether they saw a warning on the package of pine nuts. If you can provide any information, please contact me at cristina.rubke@sflaw.com.

    • Thanks Cristina. Readers, she told me on the phone that someone in Europe did a PhD on this subject with more than 200 people, and most of them were affected by pine nuts from Trader Joe’s.

  65. I HAD pine nut mouth from some Trader Joe’s and so did my husband and a few friends. It took awhile to figure out what it was — it finally went away. It is a good reminder to check the Country of Origin on a lot of products.

    • So a big group of you had pine nut syndrome? Odd that you all had it at the same time.

      I’m not sure what that will tell you, Patsy, to check the country of origin. It’s more about the variety of nut sold.

  66. Dianne, I’m bringing up the rear on this one. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this! My husband was complaining of EXACTLY this after pignole cookies at Christmas time. I thought he was unfairly attributing some weird flavor thing to the innocent pine nut. But he has a total aversion to them and I haven’t been able to convince him to let me use them since. He will feel so vindicated when he sees this! (And I’m disappointed because now I’ll really never be able to cook with pine nuts in our house again.)

    • Yes, I have stayed away from them as well, Tara! Can’t say I blame him.

      The thing is, I ate pine nuts with abandon before this happened, so it must have been the type of nuts that Trader Joe’s imported. Hope to get back to using them at some point. Don’t give up on him.

  67. Dianne,

    Just styled and shot an image this week that included pine nuts and opted not to eat them for fear of pine mouth. I contacted the seller to find where they were from (China), and between that and their small size and strong pine smell, I was too paranoid to eat any, as tempting as it was. Such a shame!

    • Well, it doesn’t affect everyone, Kimberely, but I can’t say I blame you. My husband ate them and didn’t have a problem. What I realized recently is that it was the second time I had contracted it. The first time I never figured out why some foods tasted so bitter.

  68. I have had the same experience in the last week after eating Trader Joe’s Dry Roasted Pignolias. Of all times to have this taste disturbance right before Thanksgiving! The bag says they are a product of Russia or Korea. I think it’s amazing that TJ’s doesn’t think this is significant. They should pull these. They say this causes issues in some but not in others. How many people even KNOW about this enough to report it as caused by pine nuts. My doctor thought it was probably caused by a virus. By doing my own research on the web, I discovered others with my same issue and this “pine mouth” reaction and many postings in blogs like yours had eaten TJ’s pine nuts.
    I’ll look on the bright side….This is one way to prevent overeating during the holidays!

    • Cathy, how annoying! You may be one of the few not overindulging. My pine mouth syndrome lasted at least two weeks. I haven’t had pesto since, or eaten anything with pine nuts in it. I hope I can go back to those foods one day, but right now I’m kind of scared!

  69. I just discovered that I have Pine Mouth SyndromeI! I added the deceitful little nuts to a dish I made for Thanksgiving dinner and haven’t enjoyed anything I’ve eaten for the last two days. I still have the bitter taste after vigorous brushing, flossing and using mouthwash several times a day which I’m sure will result in tissue damage before it goes away.

    I purchased the dry toasted pignolias at TRADER JOE’S on 11/23/11. There is a lable on the back of the package that states Some individuals may experience a reaction to eating pine nuts, characterized by a lingering bitter or metallic taste. They are a product of Korea, Russia and Vietnam roasted in the USA.

    • Oh no. Sorry to hear that, Erin. At least now TJ’s has that small label on the back of the bag. That is an improvement from before.

  70. I have just found out this must be what I have from reading all this feedback. I ate a big dollop of fried pine-nuts three days ago, and since then have had this most annoying foul taste in my mouth after eating or drinking. It must be this. Trick is, I’m in New Zealand and bought a packet from a New World Supermarket in the city of Dunedin. They are not in a refrigerated area, and because they are expensive, I bought the cheap house brand. I hope this doesn’t last through Christmas – but, as already noted, the upside is the weight starts to come off because eating is so revolting! Buggar!

    • Yes, horrible, isn’t it? I’m glad you figured it out. I didn’t realize what was happening until my husband Googled “bitter taste in mouth.” I hope it goes away quickly. I haven’t bought pine nuts since, nor have I ordered anything in restaurants that involves pesto sauce.

  71. 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!!!

    • Yes, we had a similar experience, Bob. My husband searched on the terms and figured out that my problem was from pine nuts. The little disclaimer on the Trader Joe’s bag appeared after I complained. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

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