Friday, June 11th, 2010

Help Me, For I Have Pine Mouth!

NOT CORRRRNN NUUUUUTSFrom time to time, The Awl offers space to ordinary citizens to discuss their bizarre medical issues. This is one such time!

As if we don't have enough to worry about! As a species, we no longer have natural predators (well, aside from BP and the Tea Partiers), but we have a host of what Tricky might have dubbed Post-Millennium Tension. Is the Internet going to make me dumb? Are The Machines going to kill me? Am I drinking too much, or more importantly, the right drinks? Will the Red Wings re-sign Nick Lidstrom? Am I taking the appropriate drugs to cope with all of this? Well, you can add the pine nut to the list of postmodern boogeymen. The fucking pine nut.

Surely such a bourgeois TOPPING surely poses about as much risk to our fragile lives as, say, kombucha, or doggie yoga.

Well, that's what I thought, until I too was stricken with pine mouth.

We'll let the professionals describe it:

A small minority of pine nuts can cause taste disturbances, developing 1-3 days after consumption and lasting for days or weeks. A bitter, metallic taste is described. Though very unpleasant, there are no lasting effects. This phenomenon was first described in a scientific paper in 2001. Some publications have made reference to this phenomenon as "pine mouth". This is a relatively new phenomenon and appears to be most common in nuts coming from China.

Like you, I hadn't heard boo about this phenomenon. Then Monday, my morning coffee tasted bitter, the cereal metallic. Simple crackers ere astringent. I thought I'd gotten some bad milk, used an unrinsed bowl, or mishandled pet medication (the mutt had upset tummy). Anything I ate or drank was ruined by an immediate sour taste in the back of my mouth, like licking a battery.

Naturally, my first instinct was to kill it with gin and vodka (and Lillet Blanc: it's called a Vesper, it's lovely, and I drank it long before Daniel Craig). It was like gargling with aluminum foil, aspirin and pine needles.

Being genetically predisposed to hypochondria, I started to worry.

The next morning, same drill: deli coffee more unpalatable than usual, yogurt medicinal. I turned to Google in a slight panic, expecting "bitter taste in back of mouth" to return results for brain cancer, heavy metal toxicity, liver failure. Among the occasional "acid reflux" references (one thing I'm pretty sure I DON'T have), I saw a lot of "pine nuts."

And then I recalled that my wife's dessert from Saturday night contained pine nuts. (It was delicious, BTW, sweetie!)

Even so, there's still not much to go on. A smattering of blog posts, a 2001 study from the EU, a random USA Today article.

Still, those, along with dozens of comments on those pieces, revealed the common, unmistakable symptoms of pine mouth. The phenomenon seems to have snowballed over the past year, and has really accelerated this spring. Some of those blog posts are still getting new comments, over a year later. People are crawling out of the woodwork with similar tales of pine mouth, and it's not hard to understand why.

You're terrified that you are going insane. Everything tastes like you are choking on lemon zest.

And boy, does it suck. As I, and other sufferers, have agreed: EVERYTHING you eat or drink is ruined by an immediate, lingering taste that is sour, soapy, metallic and medicinal. Food and booze completely lose appeal. It makes me not want to drink! It is THAT SERIOUS!

The Poors and Republicans don't have to worry about this affliction. For one, their taste buds likely have been blowtorched by stuff like the KFC Double Down. Also, they don't eat pesto. They certainly don't buy their pine nuts (for $9.99!) at Union Market because they are not hippie enough too lazy to join the Food Co-Op. Many pine mouth sufferers report buying them at Trader Joe's, for fuck's sake. These little joy-destroyers didn't come from Costco or Sam's Club or Wal-Mart.

But they did come from China.

With little actual definitive data, one strong consensus is that Chinese pine nuts are leading culprits in causing pine mouth. Really? This is what we have to worry about now? That the Chinese are coming for our palates? All weekend long, I'll be burdened to know that there's a shitty Red Dawn remake going on in my mouth.

Clarence Rosario lives in Brooklyn, works in Manhattan, and comments fucking EVERYWHERE. He half-assedly blogs here. He's got a screenplay in him, and he keeps telling himself that.

75 Comments / Post A Comment

deepomega (#1,720)

This is horrible and all, but buying produce at Trader Joe's is asking for trouble. They'll rot before you even get 'em home.

oudemia (#177)

Poor you! I have lived in fear of this since I first read about it. I eye my Costco pine nuts warily (yet they have done me no harm).

jetztinberlin (#392)

Wait, that was a tease! I want more bizarre medical stories.

(also I want to feel bad for CR, but this is too funny. warning: humor > =/= pity.)

jolie (#16)

Agreed. Miles???

jolie (#16)

In re 80s As Hell: Potpourri

sox (#652)

My mother is right. The Chinese are trying to poison us.

ljnd (#86)

Yet ONE MORE REASON to join the Coop AS I HAVE BEEN TELLING YOU LO THESE MANY YEARS. The hell we'd get pine nuts from fucking China.

Ping me. I can get you shifts where you don't even have to set foot in the place.



ljnd (#86)


Day 5, y'Awl. I need a tastebud-ectomy.

oudemia (#177)

Oh, man. I was gonna ask. I wonder what Miracle Fruit would do.

I stumbled across that, linked from deep in the comments on one of those blog posts.

Haven't tried it, but another theory is that candy sours help. To the bodega!

hockeymom (#143)

I definitely think you should submit your condition to the NYTimes magazine and let Deborah Solomon, The Medical Ethicist who Cooks with Dexter solve your mystery. Disease of the Week!

Are pine nuts the new cilantro? Or are these ones just tainted?

Also kottke is now recommending the pine nut diet as megnut's got this too.

andj (#1,074)

I got pine mouth about a year and a half ago. It was awful, just as described. Last week I finally got the courage to try some pine nuts again, and everything was fine, thank god. But I freaked out the guy at the produce store by asking him whether his pine nuts were from China, and then launching into a lengthy description of my pine mouth nightmare. *sigh*

hockeymom (#143)

How did you get rid of it?

andj (#1,074)

Eventually it went away, but it took about 10 days before it was completely gone. I took some charcoal pills, but I don't know if that helped at all.

I loved this. More posts like this, please, Mr. Rosario!

Although, In saying that, I am not wishing that more bizarre medical maladies befall you, of course …

Dude, don't get me started on my knee…

Bittersweet (#765)

The Awl so needs a Hypochondriac's Diary. (Please, Balk and Choire?)

jolie (#16)

@Bittersweet: Oh God yes this please! (I made pesto this weekend WITH ALMONDS because when I checked the label on the one sad, sad jar of pignolis at the Keyfood it had the dreaded MADE IN CHINA stamp on them and no no no.)

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

You know what this website needs? MORE OBSCURE MALADIES. I am not joking.

Tess Lynch (#4,602)

This also happens with Lunesta! I wonder what the carnage would be like if you made a Lunpesto.

minerva23 (#4,497)

Actually, some of us Poors live where pine nuts literally grow on trees. And every couple of years we go out and literally harvest these pure 100% American pine nuts. Pine mouth? Never heard of it.

My advice: stay away from those cadmium/melamine/lead-tainted Chinese pine nuts.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

<3,<3,<3 the pinons of New Mexico. They smell fuckin' delicious, also.

I think the moral here is "don't eat pine nuts," right?

I mean, it's just not worth it, is it? Who lives for pine nuts anyway? Seems to me it would be very easy to go through live without ever eating them.

HiredGoons (#603)

the name alone makes me averse.

oudemia (#177)


You can make a perfectly good pesto with almonds anyway.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

I love those little grease bombs.

minerva23 (#4,497)

Well, some of us Poors live where pine nuts literally grow on trees and every couple years we go out and harvest pure 100% American pine nuts. Pine mouth? Never heard of it.

My advice is to stop buying those cadmium/melamine/lead-tainted Chinese nuts.

ljnd (#86)

Rome? You live in Rome? Because that shit is all over the streets there, yo.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Italian WEEDS are expensive boutique food products to everyone else. Fennel grows like f'in ditch grass in parts of Tuscany. You point, stunned, to a mess of wild cherry trees and the locals look at you like What.

oudemia (#177)

OMFG wild fennel is sososo good.

WindowSeat (#180)

I turned part of my garden over to some Italian weeds and damn if I'm not a happy camper. Wild arugula, fennel, nepitella, puntarelle, FREE FREE FREE. This is great because at the rate airfares are going I'm not grubbing in the ditches of Tuscany any time soon.

HiredGoons (#603)

I totally thought that image was a pile of teeth and BOY did I get in a tizzy!

Then I made myself a screwdriver and read it and 'tee hee!'

But seriously, pesto? For real?

BeRightBack (#59)

Basic pesto is basil, olive oil, garlic, parmesan, and pine nuts smashed together.

HiredGoons (#603)


Art Yucko (#1,321)


#56 (#56)

I'm buying pine nuts now and eating them by the handful. This may be the key to weight loss?

saythatscool (#101)

Dude, you need an acid to counteract the metal. Try lemons, citrus fruits, vinegar based stuff like balsamic and pickles. Focus on that for a couple of days and I bet it goes away. Good luck!

BeRightBack (#59)

That Tricky reference made my afternoon, Clarence. Godspeed with the "pine mouth", which at least is much less pus-laden than it sounds.

lawyergay (#220)

Can someone tell me for sure whether pine nuts are actually NUTS THAT COME FROM A PINE TREE? Because pine trees have always seemed like kind of ominous presences in the forest, not like the friendly Walnut, or that giggly Southern belle, the Pecan.

oudemia (#177)

They are! Nuts from certain kinds of pine trees, anyway.

ow that hurt (#3,919)

the trouble with the Chinese pine nuts is that they are made from
Chinese drywall, which tastes terrible. So if it looks white and chalky,
don't eat it!

KarenUhOh (#19)

I had an analogous reaction to pine tar. I couldn't hit a curve ball.

oudemia (#177)

And you got that batter tossed out.

atlasfugged (#4,481)

"This is a relatively new phenomenon and appears to be most common in nuts coming from China".

You probably don't just have pine nut mouth, but lead poisoning too. Get well, Clarence. In the future, perhaps refrain from ingesting anything that comes with a "MADE IN CHINA" label.

carpetblogger (#306)

As the Awl commenter currently in China, I am convinced that every single thing I eat is laced with melamine and I haven't even gotten to the pine nuts yet.

Except the pork buns. They are perfect godfood.

Abe Sauer (#148)

what about Jian Bings.? Do they still make those everywhere?;

Abe Sauer (#148)

Yeah, that's like the human flesh baozi hoax. there is one report of that almost every 5 years or so with the most famous one being in the 80s.

chinesedrywall (#5,477)

Now that our family is living the Chinese Drywall disaster we no longer purchase anything Made in China! Once you do a little bit of research about Made in China… you run the other way! Please take a few minutes and look into this toxic product from China!

carpetblogger (#306)

yah, sorry Abe, Youtube seems to be blocked in China.

cherrispryte (#444)

Can we talk about the difference between pine nuts and pignolis? I always assumed that pignoli was merely Italian for pine nut, but my 95-year-old super-Italian great aunt says otherwise. Something about the shape? Anyone know better? Also, perhaps, stick to pignolis in the future, then?

oudemia (#177)

I'm halfsie Italian and we always called all pine nuts pignoli (and ate them on our anise cookies, nomnom). But (1) there are regional pine nut differences, and Italians clearly prefer their own and (2) when I was a kid, as far as I remember, all the pine nuts for sale *were* Italian pine nuts (and they cost a zillion dollars and were sold only in tiny spice-jar sized bottles. This answers none of your questions!

cherrispryte (#444)

Funny story: My father loves those anise cookies with pignolis, and would always keep a few in the freezer. When I was very little, I didn't like the pignolis, but would sometimes steal a cookie, and hide under the kitchen table, picking the pignolis off and just eating the cookie. I was hiding because the expensiveness of the pignolis was frequently commented upon in my house.

Day #6: Still ugh.

BTW, apparently the China link has nothing to do with metal taint (PAGING saythatscool) or melamine or even drywall. It's just that pine nuts sourced from China — a major source, BTW — tend to cause pine mouth. It's not chemical, and it's not dangerous (save for making me want to punch people when VODKA tastes terrible).


Any food that makes vodka taste terrible is an EVIL food, I say.

Bittersweet (#765)

I don't see how the Chinese mouth can be superior if the stuff it eats makes vodka taste terrible. Hope it goes away soon, Clarence!

Gazzali Maidin (#5,489)

can anyone sent this nuts by email :)

saythatscool (#101)

A metal taint?!? Dear God! The celestials have created the perfect soldier. The one weak spot of man is now eliminated. Think of the military capabilities!

ProfessorBen (#1,254)

Nah, just go for the nuts

Registered (#595)

I really didn't have any food allergies until a friend and his GF showed up and made a miracle salad, wonderful dinner, etc. The next day, I woke up with a head-to-toe rash. Pine nuts. Stay away from those things!

x^n (#5,476)

Further proof that if god is not dead, we should kill him/her/it immediately…

I had this and it took two weeks to go away. I can't remember if it was Trader Joe's or from the local fruit market. Either way it sucked!

MollyculeTheory (#4,519)

Ugh yes I had one lousy pignoli nut cookie and spent a week worrying that I had a neurological disorder. NEVER AGAIN.

andy (#5,511)

I too had this affliction earlier this year – the culprit was Bertolli pesto in a jar. The Chinese pine nuts are in pesto jars sold in the Netherlands.

DAY #9: There seems to be taste at the end of the tunnel! Thanks to all for your prayers, sacrifice of goats and virgins.

Oh, and…


Phoenixinc (#7,933)

Weeeell, After much considerin' on th' subject, I deecided to let you know mah thots. BRB….
"Scuze me ma'am…I'll take that thar dubble down thing and a barrell of Mountain Dew, Puuulease"
And just for mah information…..what the fuck is a Pine Nut anyways? Oh, and just for yore information… who the fuck cares!

I just wanted to clear up your opinion of poor/republicans. We are decidedly uneducated, fat oafish freaks who live daily to overuse the earth and her resources. Also, we can't sleep without gazing at our tattered "Sarah Palin" bumper sticker whilst cleaning our double barrel shot guns. Geepers dude! Where do ya get off with that kind of rhetoric and still consider yourself Liberal? If any self respecting poor/republican slob wrote that slanderous piece about their concerns, I daresay it would'nt come off as a funny thing. In the meantime, I'll try on some Dreads' and get my tie-dye out so you will accept me as I am. No, don't worry about me…. Im just an ignorant idiot who cant recognize an insult when I hear one. Peace out Mutha'

"And, dang….this dubble down thing is deeeelish!"

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