Pine Mouth… Who Knew!? - Formaggio Kitchen

Pine Mouth… Who Knew!?

So, this past week I had the weirdest experience.  Every time that I ate or drank something, I had a bitter taste in the back of my mouth.  At first I dismissed the problem as a one-off but as the bitterness persisted over several days, it was clear that something wasn’t right and I began to get a little worried…

After finishing work last Saturday, I got home and decided to do a little internet research before my concern turned into full-blown paranoia.  I Googled the following search terms “symptom” and “bitter taste in the back of mouth.”  The first hit I had did not prove to be terribly enlightening (I suspected that I was not experiencing liver failure).  However, my second hit was a question forum started by someone who described themselves as experiencing exactly the same bitterness problem and asking if anyone knew what could be the cause.  The first two people who responded did not have much to contribute but the third respondent simply stated that pine nuts might be the source of the problem.  Sure enough, the fellow who originally posted the question responded to say that he had indeed had pine nuts in the past week.  And, I had had pine nuts in the past week as well.  Question answered!

I must confess to having been quite surprised at the source of my bitterness problem and was curious to learn more.  It turns out, however, that there does not yet seem to be a concrete answer as to why people are experiencing this reaction that can last for days or weeks.  There doesn’t seem to be any chemical difference between the offending pine nuts and those that do not cause a bitter aftertaste.  As well, even though not everyone will get “pine mouth” from a bad bag of pine nuts, it has been determined that the phenomenon is not an allergic reaction.  The only common thread seems to be that the pine nuts causing the problem are coming from China.  “Pine mouth” has, however, only been identified as a problem relatively recently – perhaps about a year ago – so we may yet see some news on what is causing the problem.  In the meantime, if you would like more information, check out the following articles: –

The Baltimore Sun –

Daily Mail (UK) –

I was relieved to have an explanation for my tastebuds going bananas and hopefully this post will help others who might be as puzzled as I was!

Update (June, 2010): we have found a source for pine nuts in Portugal!

  • Soma

    Wouldn’t it be nice if retailers would stop selling Chinese pine nuts and source them from somewhere else?

    I’m furious with the major supermarket that sold me a packet of Chinese pine nuts with no warning and gave me pine mouth. Many of the references to pine mouth I found on the net (while I was trying to self diagnose between a potential brain tumour and acute liver failure) came from complaints on their own website’s forum, demonstrating that they have had every opportunity to be aware of the problem and source their pine nuts from elsewhere for more than a year now.

    I wrote to them as soon as I realised what I had – and clearly stated section 14 (2) of the UK’s Food Safety Act 1990 to remind them they were committing an offence. They haven’t replied yet – hopefully because my letter is being chewed over by their legal department. Heh.

    Why not do the same to your retailer quoting the relevant bit of US food safety legislation?

    If retailers would stop trying to make a buck out of selling their customers Chinese pine nuts, a product they know perfectly well can cause very unpleasant symptoms, the reputation of the pine nut might be restored!


    • Not sure if / how the pine nuts would be in violation of US food safety legislation, but regardless, the challenge for us as a retailer is to find a viable alternative. It also appears that it is not related to all Chinese pine nuts, but only a particular variety. We are currently looking to source alternatives. Most that I’ve seen so far are in very limited supply, drastically more expensive and as a result may not offer the best turnover rate at any point in the importer / distributor / retailer chain. We will keep you posted on our progress.

  • We found a new source for some amazing pine nuts. We’ll post again when they come in – hopefully in early June.

  • Good news! We just received our first delivery of pine nuts from Portugal. These pine nuts are of the Mediterranean variety which is long and narrow vs the more kernel shaped Chinese or Korean variety.

    These pine nuts are harvested in south-central Portugal from the Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) forests that share the rolling hills with olive and cork trees.

    For a photo of these pine nuts along with other products we just received from Portugal, visit our Facebook page: