A warning about the dark side of pine nuts (pesto lovers, take note)


Booster Shots is apparently late to the “pine mouth” issue. Our apologies. And our thanks — to reader Kirsten for alerting us to the potential hazard of eating pine nuts — no small matter, this being pesto season (we very much like pesto here at Booster Shots).

Apparently many people have registered some measure of alarm (or concern, mild curiosity or passing reference, depending on their appreciation of pignoli) about pine mouth, a bitter metallic taste in the mouth that develops after eating pine nuts and lasts for several days.

Earlier this month, there was this from Allison Aubrey on NPR: Pine Nuts May Be To Blame For That Bitter Aftertaste

USA Today weighed in this past spring: Link between nuts, ‘pine mouth syndrome’ is hard to crack

And the Epicurious blog waved a red flag last year with Got Pine Mouth?

The lines of thought largely go two ways: The condition — more formally called metallogeusia — is either caused by pine nut oils that turn rancid, or there’s something fishy about some of those imported nuts. Either way, this is not something about which anyone should panic — unless maybe he or she is making pesto (or these rather-amazing pine-nut-and-almond cookies) and have only pine nuts of questionable origin or that have been in the pantry for some time.

Even so, that metallic taste goes away after a few days or, at worst, a few weeks.

Here’s a recent exploration of potential pine-mouth causes from the Institute of Food Technologists: The Curious Case of the Epicurean Nut.

It begins:

“Since toxicology is the science that deals with the adverse effects of chemicals, it is appropriate to explore this somewhat puzzling case with the tools of forensic food toxicology. Unlike the world of mystery dramas in books, film, and television, solutions to mysteries in science rarely show themselves within the time it takes to cook a pine nut pesto fettuccine. It is, however, helpful to invoke the deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes to try to understand the curious case of the epicurean nut. In the words of the great detective, the game is afoot!”

And so it is … A worthy read.

(BTW, Kirsten herself prefaced her “pine nut” heads up with this comment: “I have enjoyed reading the LA Times for many years, especially the Health section.” Go, Kirsten!)

-- Tami Dennis