Beware of pine nuts!

Dwayne Perreault - As David mentioned in his next to last posting, the weekend of October 10th brought beautiful weather to Holland, and we also decided to go “sailing” on my own small boat (a sloep, as the Dutch call it) through the canals of Amsterdam.

It was a beautiful day on board with some delicious snacks and a couple of delicious wines, a white Bordeaux called Grand Bateau and my favourite rosé from Domaine de la Fourmi.

It was later the next evening when I first noticed something was not right. My girlfriend had bought a bottle of Vermentino from Tuscany which she wanted me to try and it tasted horrible. The more I tried to drink it, the more I was assaulted with an extremely bitter, metallic aftertaste.

Figuring it was the wine, I opened a different bottle, a white wine I sell and know well. The effect was the same: it was like I was drinking heavy metals.

The next day was even worse: coffee, juice, water, food and even cigarettes: everything I put in my mouth had a foul taste to it. Coincidentally I had woken up the previous morning with a pain in my side and that, combined with what was happening made me wonder, had I finally destroyed my liver?

But that same evening my girlfriend also noticed the taste in her mouth, and we realized it must have been something we ate. It didn’t take long before we realized it was the pesto, one of the snacks we had on board and bought at Albert Heijn. It turns out that pine nuts, one of the major ingredients of pesto alla genovese, can cause exactly the same taste disturbances we had. I quote here from wikipedia:

A small minority of pine nuts can cause taste disturbances, developing 1–3 days after consumption and lasting for days or weeks. A bitter, metallic taste is described. Though very unpleasant, there are no lasting effects. This phenomenon was first described in a scientific paper in 2001. Some publications have made reference to this phenomenon as "pine mouth". This is a relatively newly noticed phenomenon, which might be caused by the nuts spoiling and having gone rancid. It has been also hypothesised that this bitter side effect is caused by an allergy that some people may have to pine nuts, but this does not explain the recent appearance of this syndrome. Another theory attributes the phenomenon to nuts imported from China. It has been hypothesised that the nut trees are absorbing something and passing it on to the nuts, or the nuts themselves are being treated with something before packaging. Metallic taste disturbance, known as metallogeusia, is reported 1–3 days after ingestion, being worse on day 2 and lasting for up to 2 weeks. Cases are self-limited and resolve without treatment.

I’ve eaten roasted pine nuts in salads for years without a single problem, but I write about this because I know there are wine professionals who read this blog, and they should at the least be aware of the risk of eating pine nuts, particularly before important tastings.

I’m happy to say that after four days, my sense of tasting returned to normal, only now I’ve caught a cold, so I still can’t taste wine. But at least I can’t blame that on pine nuts!


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