Two weeks ago, on August 22, I had people over for dinner. I made this recipe for the Zuni Cafe roasted chicken with bread salad. The recipe/dinner itself would almost be worthy for a post in and of itself, but as you can see, Deb has already well explained the recipe, and I have something more important to talk about – Pine Mouth. I know, you are probably thinking “what the heck is pine mouth?” I would be saying the exact same thing in your shoes, if I didn’t have the unfortunate experience myself.
I suppose it makes the most sense for me to explain this by way of a timeline, and fill in the information as I learned of it.
Tuesday August 25, 2009 – I woke up for work (I work from home Tuesday mornings), and while I was brewing the coffee, I grabbed a gum drop from a plastic bin as a snack. It tasted a bit strange to me, extra bitter, but I thought maybe it was just a bad gum drop, and didn’t think much of it. The coffee, prepared in a Moka pot, also tasted a bit bitter, but I thought I had burned it some, and just kind of powered through. Neither of these tastes really made me think anything was wrong, but after I got to the office around 11, I noticed that there was a persistent foul taste in my mouth – a acrid, sour taste. I thought maybe I was having some reflux, not completely unheard of for me, so I had a Tums, which also tasted completely awful. When 30 minutes later the taste didn’t go away – in fact it was hanging there like a bitter blanket on the back of my tongue, I started to get concerned. So I did what any sane person would do, and I googled “bitter taste on back of tongue”, and found a bunch of very concerning articles – was my liver failing? Did I actually have a brain tumor? However, thankfully, I noticed, far down on the page, a reference to pine nuts causing a bitter taste. “I had pine nuts Sunday in the bread salad, in fact I had a bunch while cooking dinner too…” was in my mind.
I did some more googling around, and found that wikipedia contains a reference to this outcome, as well as a link to a paper in the European Journal of Emergency Medicine describing this affliction. Interestingly enough, the paper is from 2001, but most of the 13,000 hits for “Pine Mouth” seem to be from the past 9 months or so. So what’s going on here? Well, no one knows, but I will talk about what’s known:
- Around two days after eating certain pine nuts, certain people develop a lingering, unpleasant taste sensation
- The pine nuts that have caused the issue appear to be mostly sourced from China, or other places in the East. European and American pine nuts appear to be precluded from causing this, for now
- The exact methodology of this affliction is not known (but I will discuss a hypothesis of mine shortly
- The affliction lasts for about one to two weeks for more people
Seeing this all relieved me greatly, and also caused me to realize that the bitter taste was reminiscent of the bitter component to pine nuts’ flavor. I made it through the rest of the day eating food that tasted poorly, and just suffered.
Wednesday August 26, 2009 – This mostly probably the worst day of the experience taste wise, because everything I put in my mouth, save for water, tasted like it was coated in dish soap. I was also a bit concerned by getting affected now (and note that none of the other 3 people at dinner got hit by this, so perhaps my extra snacking before dinner helped this along), since I had plans to go wine tasting in Napa the coming weekend with Mackenzie, and what’s the point in wine tasting if all the wine tastes like soap!?
Thursday August 27, 2009 – The soap taste had receded a bit. It was now more of an aftertaste (and a most foul one at that), and I found that some foods had strong after tastes than others. In particular high carb/high sugar foods were the soapiest, and spicy and savory items were markedly less so. I had some hope that by the coming Saturday I would be “better”.
Saturday August 29, 2009 – Sadly, I wasn’t all the way better by Saturday. The soapy aftertaste was certainly less strong, and it lingered far less, but my taste was still not up to par. I couldn’t trust any aftertaste in any of the wines I tasted (and, alas, port in particular was fouled by the soapy aftertaste, which made my otherwise fun visit to Prager Port imperfect.
Wednesday September 2, 2009 – After brushing my teeth in the morning I thought to myself “hey, was this baking soda tooth paste”, because it had that sort of aftertaste. It was not, just normal minty stuff, but this also the last little whisper of the Pine Mouth distastefulness. I was, after this, free at last!
So it lasted a bit more than 8 days for me, which seems to be right around the average, but the big questions remain – what the heck is this, how does it work? Of course, I can’t answer everything, but I can say that scraping your tongue, eating things like parsley, etc have no impact on this. It’s something inside (or chemically bonded) to your taste buds which causes this. And, I think this is the key to the one to two week duration – the life span to a taste bud is about two weeks. So, I, hypothesize that some chemical in these pine nuts from China or Korea or etc, binds with the taste receptors in some taste buds, and then over the course of 36 or 48 hours, metabolizes into some other chemical that blocks all taste except bitter, and perhaps even generates this taste. Now, as these afflicted taste buds die off over the next two weeks, your taste gradually returns to normal.
That’s my story with Pine Mouth. I’m going to be hesitant to eat pine nuts sourced from Asia again, but I’m not going to completely avoid them. It’s entirely possible I will never face this again (and I hope so), but at least I’ll know what it is next time. Have you ever had pine mouth? What was your experience like? Let me know!