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Because it is bitter, and because it is my mouth
April 20, 2010 6:02 AM   Subscribe

Suddenly everything you eat or drink tastes horribly bitter and metallic, with the bitterness persisting at the back of your tongue after each swallow. The symptom recedes somewhat after a few meals but still persists after days. What's wrong with you? Brain tumor? Liver failure? First check if you ate pine nuts a few days ago - if so, you've probably just got pine mouth.

The first case of taste disturbances after pine nut ingestion was noted in 2000, but their incidence has spiked in the last year or two. Typically the symptoms described above arise suddenly about three days after eating pine nuts, and gradually diminish over the course of 2 to 14 days.

It appears to affect only certain people, and it appears to be an issue only with certain kinds of pine nuts, specifically those sourced from Asia (and China in particular). Does it have to do with some property of that variety of nut, or maybe the way they've been treated? What is the mechanism for producing the symptom of intense bitterness, and why does it go away in a week or two? No one seems to have a clue.
posted by dfan (36 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I had a nasty case of it last year that lasted a good 3 weeks. It never happens to me with non-China (if the label is to be believed) grown pine nuts. When pine nuts from China are the only ones available, I'll substitute with walnuts; it's not as good, but it's better than than horrible meaty-metal mouth.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:15 AM on April 20, 2010


And this is why I will continue making my pesto with almonds.
posted by maudlin at 6:19 AM on April 20, 2010


And the list of Chinese products I will not come within 100 feet of grows by one.
posted by JeffK at 6:20 AM on April 20, 2010 [9 favorites]


Boy! Between "Smell Like a Pope" and "Pine Nut Mouth" I'm learning all sorts of useful phrases this morning on MetaFilter. Maybe I'll Mix 'N Match: "Smell Like a Pine" and "Pope Nut Mouth"....uh oh.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:24 AM on April 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


So glad this doesn;t happen to me cause if left to my own devices I will put pine nuts on anything and everything.
posted by The Whelk at 6:33 AM on April 20, 2010


unless of course you've had sushi the days before you fell ill.
posted by krautland at 6:36 AM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


New weight loss plan!
posted by madred at 6:44 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am presently reading this extraordinary book about a family of religious hermits whose subsistence diet was largely comprised of pine nuts. Hopefully pine mouth was not an issue for them, as their life was already miserable enough.

Interestingly, there is some discussion about pine nut oil's appetite suppression properties, completely apart from pine mouth.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:49 AM on April 20, 2010


Previously (Jessamyn on boingboing)
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:51 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Suddenly everything you eat or drink tastes horribly bitter and metallic, with the bitterness persisting at the back of your tongue after each swallow

No, it's not pine mouth. You've clicked on the last link before the fold and read the Daily Mail. It's a surprisingly common affliction.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:51 AM on April 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


*clutches his throat and makes gagging noises* Pine nuts!

*falls face-first into a glass table*
posted by adipocere at 6:55 AM on April 20, 2010 [9 favorites]


Suddenly everything you eat or drink tastes horribly bitter and metallic, with the bitterness persisting at the back of your tongue after each swallow

Hmm, this happened to me recently, but I'm pretty positive it was from a course of Flagyl I was on. Vile drug.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:16 AM on April 20, 2010


Ooh, a whodunit!

Let's see...Seems that heavy metals and chemical changes can be ruled out (based on initial investigations), so that means it's probably something biological. But not likely to be fungal contamination, based on the other initial investigations. That leaves bacterial. But people are getting the symptoms even when the food is cooked. Hmm.

My hypothesis: The culprit is Streptomyces genus from the Actinobacteria phylum. More specifically Streptomyces lincolnensis. Streptomycetes are found predominantly in soil and decaying vegetation, and could get into the pine nuts during harvesting and/or early processing (particularly in food-contamination-prone China). Notably, Streptomyces lincolnensis produces lincomycin, a natural antibiotic from which Clindamycin is derived. Clindamycin, which is widely used in acne vulgaris, toxoplasmosis and bacterial vaginosis, is associated with taste disorders (metallic tastes at that), especially following oral application. Importantly, lincomycin is very heat-stable, and survives standard sterilisation procedures (like cooking) that should nevertheless kill the bacteria.

So I suggest it is Streptomyces lincolnensis, in the pine nut, with the lincomycin.
posted by kisch mokusch at 7:16 AM on April 20, 2010 [46 favorites]


*clutches his throat and makes gagging noises* Daily Mail!
posted by i_cola at 7:17 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I suggest it is Streptomyces lincolnensis, in the pine nut, with the lincomycin.

You are Dr. Gregory House and I claim my five Vicodin.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:37 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Suddenly everything you eat or drink tastes horribly bitter and metallic, with the bitterness persisting at the back of your tongue after each swallow

That's when you realize you accidentally picked up the diet Coke.

"How can you not tell the difference?! God, it's like having my Dad do the shopping!"
posted by dirigibleman at 7:37 AM on April 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


This happened to my roommate a few months ago and I've been afraid to eat pine nuts ever since. Tragedy!
posted by lunasol at 7:59 AM on April 20, 2010


Zopiclone gives me an immediate metallic bitterness. Trying to wash it away with water or [worse!] toothpaste is the wrong thing to do. A completely dry mouth is the only thing that helps. I am so glad this doesn't happen with tasty pine nuts.
For people looking for more info, the term is:

Dysgeusia
posted by Acari at 8:01 AM on April 20, 2010


Whoops, sorry about the Daily Mail link, I forgot their status and the article itself was reasonable.

The way I found out about it was getting it myself last week (total time around 5 days). I recommend avoiding it! I'll probably still try buying pine nuts at least once more (the ones I had were distinctively small, and I'll avoid those) but I won't be ordering pesto in a restaurant any time soon.

Thanks for the hypothesis, kisch mokusch, that's really interesting.
posted by dfan at 8:06 AM on April 20, 2010


Mmm tasty toasted pine nuts! I noticed a hike in pine nut prices a while back and recently the only ones in store here in Edinburgh have been tiny wee things, so I've not bothered.
posted by jiroczech at 8:19 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do not wish this on anyone. For the love of God, don't eat the pine nuts!
posted by too bad you're not me at 8:38 AM on April 20, 2010


Huh. Now if someone could just explain how copious amounts of garlic changes the flavor of my cigarettes for several days. Anybody else encounter this?
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:40 AM on April 20, 2010


There's a restaurant I go to every few months and I always order the rice with pine nuts & cinnamon. Maybe this explains why when I ordered the rice with pine nuts last night, the nuts were obviously overcooked, for the first time ever. Wonder if that helps.
posted by serena15221 at 9:00 AM on April 20, 2010


I always roast my pine nuts before making pesto. Maybe that kills the bacteria, or perhaps my batch of nuts aren't from China. I've never had pine nut mouth, knock on wood.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:24 AM on April 20, 2010


The dining critic for the Cincinnati Enquirer encountered this recently. She was unable to taste food for over a week, and couldn't review restaurants.
posted by tizzie at 9:29 AM on April 20, 2010


Suddenly everything you eat or drink tastes horribly bitter and metallic, with the bitterness persisting at the back of your tongue after each swallow

dfan, the cilantro thread's still open.
posted by Killick at 9:44 AM on April 20, 2010


This is quite a coincidence. I had pine nuts for dinner as part of a basil pesto and it's now three in the morning and I woke up like a bullet to run to the toilet and be enormously sick.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:06 AM on April 20, 2010


This happened to my sense of taste a few weeks ago, after three days soaking (no, not continuously) in natural New Mexican hot springs rich in iron, arsenic, lithium, etc. I'm assuming my body must have absorbed some of these minerals. It went away after a couple of days.
posted by kozad at 10:10 AM on April 20, 2010


Nice thread title, by the way.
posted by kozad at 10:10 AM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pine nuts are always linked, in my mind, to another malady, Hantavirus.

In the early nineties in New Mexico an abundance of wet weather, thanks to el nino, brought a large Piñon nut crop. This led to an abundance of mice. With an abundance of mice, came mouse droppings. Hantavirus is transmitted through inhaled powdered mouse feces, much like you might encounter on a dusty hike, or cleaning out an infested attic, or if you lived in a home with a dirt floor as many in the Navajo nation were. Hantavirus was previously unknown, and lots of people were scared. There is more or less no treatment. Healthy adults developed severe respiratory infections, go on ventilation and I think about half died. One of the panicked/non-logical responses many people took was to avoid piñon nuts, much the same way people didn't eat pork when swine flu first made news. I remember my mom made a fuss on a family road trip, and wouldn't let us stop at Four Corners, where the outbreak was first identified, or drive with the windows open around the area.

The Navajo oral history recorded two other outbreaks of disease related to years of large piñon crop and mice in the early 1900s. Remains of those dead were tested and the same strain of hantavirus was confirmed.

All in all, an interesting chain of events: el nino led to piñon nuts, which lead to extra mice then lots of mice poo which carried the hantavirus. Humans inhale the infected dusty mouse poo, which caused piñon prices plummet, an interesting confluence of microbiology and ancient oral history, and I've still never been to four corners.
posted by fontophilic at 11:10 AM on April 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Italian pine nuts are my favorite hands down, so I guess I've dodged a bullet. Though I want to commiserate with the person upthread who mentioned the recent uptick in price. Woe is me because they make everything better.
posted by ifjuly at 12:08 PM on April 20, 2010


AMAZING - I have been having this for the last week or so and wondering WTF it was. I thought it was some sort of ear infection or my Levazo... but no, my mom just loves making her apple soup with pine nuts...

Thanks Blue!
posted by DetonatedManiac at 1:35 PM on April 20, 2010


This seriously just happened to me also this week and I was googling around trying to figure it out. As usual MeFi seems to be psychic.
posted by zennoshinjou at 1:38 PM on April 20, 2010


Happened to me last fall. The nasty taste stuck around for about a week and a half, and put me off of Trader Joe's pine nuts forever, alas.
I found out that one miraculin tablet more or less canceled out the pine mouth long enough to eat dinner.
posted by pernoctalian at 2:10 PM on April 20, 2010


And here I was just getting ready to make my special "Chinese Five Toxins Fungus-Contaminated Pine Nuts with Melamine Milk and Rancid Cooking Oil" soup.
posted by benzenedream at 3:23 PM on April 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


mmmm ... delicious toxins

this happened to me last year, but i thought it was these detox foot pads causing it; wonder what the common factor, if any, is ...
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 3:40 PM on April 20, 2010


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