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Taste Buds Go On Sick Leave with Pine Mouth Syndrome

Hot & Cool Trends

By Cari Martens


If you’re someone who just loves to savor the flavor of good foods (and don’t we all?), one kind of nut you might want to watch out for is the pine nut. It can sometimes leave a bad taste in your mouth—literally—that lasts for weeks.

If you’re a person who makes a living tasting and judging foods, pine nuts could put you out of commission—though the taste disturbance is rare and temporary.

The affliction happened to San Francisco chef and food critic Jenna VanGrowski. She became a victim of the strange taste disturbance known as ‘pine mouth syndrome,’ a rare and seemingly random reaction to eating pine nuts. Symptoms of pine mouth include a bitter, metallic aftertaste that lingers for two to four weeks and leaves one unable to taste foods normally.

In a story by Courtney Hutchison for ABC News, VanGrowski says even the taste of toothpaste became almost unbearable. ‘I’m a chef,’ she told Hutchison, ‘so I started getting really scared and frustrated because I need to be able to taste to do what I do. I had no idea what the heck is going on.’

Fortunately, the reaction is only temporary. Most cases go away on their own within one to four weeks.

Pine mouth is a fairly recent phenomenon that’s become more widely reported just in the last year or two, according to Dr. Marc-David Munk, who wrote about his own struggle with it in the Journal of Medical Toxicology in 2009. It was in 2009 that blogs began reporting cases in Australia and Europe, as well as the U.S.

There are two theories for the cause of pine mouth syndrome:
⋅ Rancid nuts. Pine oil is known to be unstable if not kept cold.
⋅ The reaction is from Chinese pine nuts not traditionally harvested for food.

Because pine mouth is such a recent phenomenon, scientists stress that these are only theories, and are unproven at this point.

Since the FDA began tracking the syndrome in February, 2009, there have been more than 50 cases reported.

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