Got Pine Mouth? The Curious Problem with Pine Nuts

Pine nuts. Almost everyone loves them, and it's hard not to add just a little extra when you're sprinkling them on salads, adding them to pesto sauce, topping off main meals with them, turning them into desserts, or what have you.

But ever since last winter, an increasing number of people have fallen prey to a curious problem with them: pine mouth.

That's when eating pine nuts leaves you with a metallic taste in your mouth that can last for weeks afterward, and make eating or drinking anything an unpleasant experience.

The problems seemed to begin with Chinese pine nuts imported into the U.S. about a year ago. There is no heavy-metal contamination or pesticide or fungus involved, and it doesn't seem related to allergies. Even more confusing, not everyone is affected. A British botanist who's started a blog dedicated to pine mouth suspects oxidation as a possibility, or that a new species of pine nut is being sold.

Changes in taste (called dysgeusia) often occur when people are, and can be symptoms of very serious health issues like nerve damage or brain tumors, can occur during pregnancy or be a side effect of treatments like chemotherapy, or can go completely unexplained. Anyone who's every taken the antibiotic metronidazole knows how much fun it can be to take a dose before a lavish dinner. (Zero.) Steelworkers and people who work with brass sometimes complain of metallic tastes, as do some people who've undergone recent dental work. In many cases, there's nothing to do but wait and hope the change in taste goes away.

These pine-nut incidents, however, are clearly related to the food, and not simply caused by individual underlying health issues.

Has anyone had pine mouth? Do you remember the circumstances of your incident? What kind of pine nuts did you buy, where did you buy them? How did you use them? How long did your pine mouth last? Was it enough to make you swear off pine nuts forever?

by Michael Y. Park


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