Help Me, For I Have Pine Mouth!

by Clarence Rosario


From 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.