Going Nuts – 12 November 2014

The strangest thing happened this week. I had my morning tea and it tasted really strange. I checked the milk and it smelled fine. A few hours later I ate a banana and it tasted bitter. That was weird but I got on with my day. A handful of almonds tasted bitter with my afternoon snack. Dinner tasted awful. The next day was the same.

Some years ago I would have known I was pregnant, this particularly metallic taste being a very early announcement made by my body when I conceived my children. Being a woman of a certain age now, I knew that was the least likely possibility.

I began to wonder if I had been grinding my teeth thus causing my fillings to start ‘leaking’ into my mouth. I remembered that I was behind with my twice yearly dental appointment and made a mental note to sort it out. I wasn’t convinced that the problem was with my teeth.

By the third day I was hovering on the edge of feeling concerned. I made a large pot of vegetable soup to ward off the sudden arrival of wintery weather and to have a nutritious snack when the hungry teenagers came home in the pitch dark and rain. My bowl tasted ghastly although my sons assured me that theirs were ‘fine’.

I try to avoid googling physical symptoms because I am hypochondriachal in nature and don’t need any further confirmation of my worst fears. However, I was aware that strange taste experiences can result from a brain tumour. Even though I am easily frightened by such prospects, I reckoned that this bitter taste had come on rather too soon for such a diagnosis. Nevertheless I turned on my computer and sat down to read my future.

Searching ‘bitter taste in mouth’, I was treated to a long list of articles on Pine Mouth, a condition with all my symptoms that develops a couple of days after eating pine nuts from China. I remembered serving pine nuts as a garnish on a soup a couple of days before my taste buds turned against me. Although eight people had eaten the soup, I seemed to be the only one affected. Perhaps because I continued to eat leftover pine nuts the following day. I still had a few left in the original packet and when I checked the country of origin it was China.

I discovered a woman doing her PhD on Pine Nut Syndrome and emailed her. She kindly sent me a link to her completed research. This was handy when I told my incredulous men about my travails. Many people reported their problems following ingesting Chinese pine nuts. Some suffered for months, including chefs who thought their careers were over. I was lucky, my symptoms lasted a week. I sent an email to the upmarket supermarket where I bought the pine nuts but have received no response as yet.

When this condition first came to light some years ago most supermarkets denied any link to problematic pine nuts. My reading reveals that some years ago there was a very poor crop of pine nuts and supermarkets began to source in China. There are many types of pine nuts, not all suitable for human consumption and many of these were previously limited by the Chinese to the local market. More recently it seems that these nuts have found their way into the export market and are thought to be causing the problem – the species in question is called Pinus armandii.

Sadly, many people have a prolonged response and can end up under medical investigation for brain tumours, heart conditions, acid reflux and so on. Because getting Pine Mouth is so random and probably reasonably rare, and because the effects seem self-limiting, it is possibly not something GPs are familiar with.

I for one will no longer be buying pine nuts from China. I am tempted to eat the remaining pine nuts in my fridge just to see if I respond again but that seems foolhardy. Instead I will have to seek out Mediterranean ones which are, I understand, a long variety rather than the ones I ate which are roundish. I hope you do not encounter this problem but if you suddenly find everything tastes bitter, be assured you are not going nuts.

4 Responses to Going Nuts – 12 November 2014

  1. Choclette says:

    Gosh Madeleine, this almost sounds like an April Fool, only it’s not April. How very strange and how horrible. Thankfully your symptoms only lasted a week. I shall be very careful about country of origin when next buying pine nuts.

  2. Oh how very strange Madeleine, and well done for finding out what it was and researching the strange phenomenon. Glad it’s over now and your taste has come back to normal, and thanks for highlighting it on your blog. Shall definitely be checking where my pine nuts are from now!

  3. Well I never! Never heard of this before, but I’m glad I know what to look out for know. Glad it didn’t last any longer than a week for you.

  4. Thanks for the info, I’ll definitely be checking where my pine nuts come from in future. So glad your response wasn’t prolonged. GG

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