{Food Dish} Watch Out for Asian Pine Nuts

In an effort to protect our readers from a similar fate, I feel it my obligation to talk about a grievous (and preventable) affliction: pine mouth.

It all started about a month ago. Erin Hallstrom, the LDS Living “big cheese,” was talking about how she and her friend had recently noticed that all their food tasted bitter. Without missing a beat, Ashley Evanson—online editor by day, foodie by night—responded, “It’s Asian pine nuts!” We all stared at her incredulously. 

Though our reaction made her a little sheepish, she persisted bravely. She had read in a magazine (Cook’s Illustrated, no less) that eating pine nuts can cause the consumer to taste more of the bitter than the sweet in food—much more. It was tied specifically to pine nuts from Asia. Erin then remembered how she and her friend had eaten lunch together and, indeed, had eaten pine nuts. The mystery was solved.

Fast forward to this week. I noticed a peculiar bitter taste in my mouth every time I ate (and even worse, after I finished eating). It had nothing to do with hygiene, since it has never bothered me before. Being pregnant, I wondered if it was due to some recent hormonal change. I looked it up on the internet and found that, indeed, there were some in the pregnancy forums who experienced a bitter taste in their mouths throughout pregnancy. But why would mine have started so late? I only have a few weeks left.

Then I remembered the pine nuts. They were so tasty on my green salad—a welcome crunch and nuttiness to an otherwise typical fare. But I had eaten them a week ago. Why was it showing up now? I asked Erin about her own experience with pine mouth. She said that, indeed, it took a couple days to show up, and it lasted a couple weeks.

After a brief internet search, I found that it can last up to four weeks. Chefs, foodies, and even non-food-lovers all over have been unsettled by this fairly recent phenomenon. It was relatively undocumented before 2009, but it has experienced a surge in the last couple years and has been shown to be connected to pine nuts from Asia, specifically China. (Read more here.) It affects sufferers with somewhat different intensity, but the gist is always the same: bitter taste with food, sometimes afterward as well.

So, beware the pine nut. Eating it might seem like a good idea at the time, but unless you can find out for sure where it came from, you may be paying for your decision for weeks to come.

Kate Ensign-Lewis is the Associate Editor at LDS Living. She loves cooking in her tiny kitchen, eating great new foods with her husband, and finding good entertainment and art. She likes (virgin) pina coladas, but does not like getting caught in the rain.
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