/ Food & Drink

Complaints help solve ‘pine mouth’ mystery

Pine nuts

There’s been a mystery afoot with pine nuts. A bitter aftertaste has affected so many that it’s earned the name ‘pine mouth’. Supermarkets didn’t believe us, but with your help we’ve got to the bottom of it.

Complaining is a big part of British culture. Sometimes we even have a good reason to go with it.

So it was slightly surprising when we looked into ‘pine mouth’ earlier this year to hear that so little was being done about an issue that was affecting so many people.

Bitter aftertaste due to unscrupulous producers

Pine mouth is a bitter, metallic aftertaste caused by the consumption of pine nuts, and can in some cases lead to nausea and stomach problems.

We first heard about pine mouth through one of our members, but after our story in August’s Which? Magazine we received literally hundreds of letters and e-mails about this problem.

But when we started researching the causes we found a lot of speculation and little in the way of facts. It took correspondence with the European Commission (EC) to get to the bottom of the problem – namely that an inedible type of pine nut from China had entered the food chain following a pine nut shortages.

Following intervention by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Chinese authorities have endeavoured to stop this practice, but the EC couldn’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be further incidences.

Your pine mouth stories can help

Some issues are too big to be ignored, but while wholly unpleasant, pine mouth is thankfully not life-threatening. It does provide a cautionary tale though. When we spoke to supermarkets stocking the offending pine nuts and also the Food Standards Agency (FSA), we were repeatedly told that they’d only had a few complaints, and hadn’t deemed the issue serious enough.

Any issue relating to food safety should be brought to the attention of the FSA, local Trading Standards officers, and ourselves. This can take the form of a letter or a phone call, but don’t underestimate the power of the nag.

So with your help we can get something done. If you’ve fallen foul of pine mouth don’t just tell us about it below, email toxicology@foodstandards.gsi.gov.uk with details of the pine nuts and the length of time you suffered the bitter taste to get your case recorded.

Comments
Matt H says:
6 October 2010

Yep this happened to me about a year ago. I bought some pine nuts from Sainsbury’s as something to snack on at work. I probably ate about half the packet that afternoon and then the next day started getting this really bitter taste in my mouth whenever I ate anything. I did a quick search on the internet and discovered lots of people on forums mentioning ‘Pine Mouth’ and how pine nuts from China were probably responsible. I even read on one forum that it lasted 6 months!

Thankfully it only lasted about 4 days, but that was bad enough. It certainly put me off eating pine nuts for a while. Now I always check the packet to make sure they’re not from China, although most of the ones in supermarkets seem to be.

Gary Feeke says:
6 October 2010

I have been experiencing an awful bitter metallic taste in my mouth seems to be worse after I eat or drink and has been going on for about 3 days. I decided to investigate on web and saw several stories about Pine mouth. I opened a new packet of pine nuts bought from Tesco which we had on a goats cheese salad on Sunday so it seems to tie up with terrible taste Im now getting. I checked bag and surprise surprise they are from China. Its never happened before???

Nic M says:
8 October 2010

My husband and I have both been experiencing this bitter after taste whenever we eat and drink (he loves his food so is getting quite fed up with it now!). I would never have thought to link it to the small sprinkling of pine nuts we had on our salad. Thank goodness for the internet. It’s been 4 days for us now and no sign of improvement yet. Our culprits are a brand new bag of Neals Yard ‘produce of China’ pine nuts purchased from Holland and Barrett last week.

Moira Stuart says:
25 October 2010

I had pine nuts last Friday afternoon in a restaurant, and by that evening I developed a strong metalic taste in my mouth every time I ate or drank everything. It is now Sunday evening and I still have the problem. Even if I drink water it sets it off. I had no idea what it was until I googled “metalic taste in the mouth”, and realised it was a common occurance. Thankfully, not life threatening, but nonetheless very unpleasant.

I am experiencing this right now! I bought a ‘healthy natural snack’ from Aldi: Snackrite, a seeds and fruit mix. I was quite happily munching away on Thursday. When I sat down to eat dinner on Friday evening, nothing tasted right. Ever since then I have had the metallic taste whenever I eat or drink. I hope if doesn’t last much longer.
I think I’ll stick to the biscuits and crisps in future!

Elizabeth says:
16 November 2010

I bought a bag of pine nuts from Asda on Friday. The bitter taste only started on Sunday (just in time to NOT enjoy the delicious Sunday Roast I cooked). I have found the only thing that does not cause a bitter metalic taste is drinking Chocolate whey protein powder. So I have been living off that for the past few days.Can’t wait for this to be over!

Love cooking – eaten pine nuts hundreds of times. Made a homemade pesto sauce – (toasting then grinding pinenuts etc) on Monday for tea. Tasted great – all the family enjoyed – which is a major feat!
By Tuesday lunchtime I started to think the coffee I was drinking wasn’t right…… Tuesday afternoon – I was questioning what my daughter had put into her school made cupcakes! Yes I realised EVERYTHING tasted bitter – its now Friday and I’m so fed up that I only really feel like eating grapefruit because that tastes about the same!
Complained to Tesco by phone – they had no idea of any “Pine Mouth” situation – the pack was from China and the assistant took details – promising a reply – nothing yet!
Would love to know more about this subject – why the rest of my family were unaffected? Are the supermarkets still selling pinenuts of Chinese origin?
I teach cooking in community and love my food – but this really has put me off using pine nuts!

Kirsten M says:
23 November 2010

On the 4th day of pine mouth. Very fed up as it seems obvious that the supermarkets know about this. I bought mine on Saturday from Sainsburys, and they are from China. Why are they still stocking Chinese pine nuts? I realise that not everyone who eats them is effected but this condition is horrible and for a child or elderly/ill person could be very distressing. Surely we should be avoiding this happening as it is so preventable.
I have contacted Watchdog and the FSA and urge all sufferrers to do the same.

John Hodges says:
7 December 2010

I have been eating pine nuts for the last 2 months. On 26/11/2010 I purchased a 330g bag form TESCOs. I then found myself suffering from a very strong, bitter, metallic taste towards the back of my throat. I thought something must be quite seriously wrong and did some internet research – and discovered “Pine mouth”. I stopped eating the pine nuts and the condition sorted itself out after about 3 days. Have complained to TESCO and they will apparently re-imburse but am concerned that this well known problem is still ongoing. The pine nuts were from China.

Susan says:
21 December 2010

Whilst relieved to Google that I have NOT got a brain tumour or any other, so far, sinister medical condition, and that I have the company (albeit miserably suffering) of many, many others with the same condition, this situation is simply not on. I was totally unaware of this problem but the retailers know about it yet do nothing.

A pine nut and pesto lover, my nemesis was a packet of “Baby Pine Nuts” bought from Julian Graves (also Holland & Barrett). There is no mention on the packet of the source of the pine nuts but on checking their website they come from …tadah! China. I ate these nuts, just a handful, 2 days ago and got the first reaction today – food and wine and tea and water …..so bitter or “off”. It’s three days before Christmas and everything tastes vile.

Why are retailers allowed to sell food products without stating the source? There is a mass of this “pine mouth” reporting on internet forums in recent years (& thank you Google for enlightening me – no one else did, nothing much in the main media). Even without knowing prior to today about pine nut problems, I would have been wary of buying food stuffs from China in case.
So why does your mange tout have “From Kenya” clearly stated on the bubble pack but nothing shown on nut or dried fruit packets from our so called health shops??

Susie says:
29 December 2010

I Googled to see if I could find out why I might be experiencing this bad taste when eating. As soon as I saw the pine nut problem I knew I had found the answer. I used pine nuts bought from Asda with the brand name Besana in a recipe a few days ago and also ate a few straight from the packet. On looking at the packet it was confirmed they were indeed from China.

I have eaten pine nuts before without this effect but will be avoid them in the future.

Chris says:
19 January 2011

My wife an I are both suffering with a fairly continuous and intense bitter taste in the mouth – worse after eating or drinking. The taste is like walnut skins or grapefruit pith. It started for us this morning after each eating a Neal’s Yard Wholefoods Salad Sprinkle – a seed mix last night containing pine nuts sold by Holland and Barrett. We are not habitual pine nut eaters and the coincidence is too much to ignore.
The bag of salad sprinkle is marked Half Price. I wonder why. Retailers must be aware of this. I intend to make a direct complaint to the store then take it to local trading standards.

Mark says:
26 January 2011

My wife and I have started experiencing precisely these symptoms today, after using a bag of Neal’s Yard Wholefoods Salad Sprinkle purchased from Holland and Barrett in Meadowhall, Sheffield. So I think we have two incidents of pine mouth from this brand. I shall be raising this with the FSA, Holland and Barrett and Neal’s Yard.

simon says:
20 May 2011

Me too! Obviously nothing has been done and we’re still all buying inedible pine nuts as one article put it, which is exactly what they are I suppose

After reading your article,, I felt I needed to log my comment. My bag of pine nuts were purchased last summer from morrisons, and the taste lasted five days I have just had another pine mouth don’t know what the pine nuts were in!

Jean says:
6 February 2011

I have recently suffered from pine mouth after eating ‘Baby’ pine nuts from China purchased from Julian Graves in December 2010. These were scattered on salads. Two days after eating them I had a very foul, bitter taste in my mouth, particularly when eating or drinking. This lasted for about 10 days and during this time I ate very little as eating was a very unpleasant experience. The things that I found most palatable during this time were fizzy water and sour cherry sweets! I shall never eat Chinese pine nuts again, but am not sure how to tell what pine nuts have been used in shop-bought pesto.

Fran says:
7 February 2011

I recently bought some pine nuts from a local Sainsbury’s store. I unfortunately experienced the nasty ‘Pine Mouth’ which makes food taste unpleasant and is ongoing. I also experienced nausia and diarrhea. I will make every effort to avoid consuming any pine nuts hear on in. The pine nuts say, produce of China on the packaging. I have contacted the FSA and still have some of the nuts left in the original packaging. I hope these nuts can be traced back to where they originated from and be removed from our shelves.

We bought a pack of pine nuts (produce of China) from our local Co-op two days ago to use in a recipe we were trying and since then I have had a bitter taste in the mouth and occasional feelings of nausea. My wife seems unaffected although we both ate similar quantities. It has taken a couple of days for the memory to kick in with “didn’t I read something about that?”. So pine nuts will certainly be off our shopping list in future. It does not seem to be a food poisoning issue, rather a food sensitivity in some people but is certainly deserving of more publicity as I am finding it extremely unpleasant with no indication of how long it might last.

I bought some pine nuts from Tescos at the weekend. My boyfriend and I had them mixed in with our dinner. Yesterday I started getting this horrible bitter metallic taste in my mouth, and I’ve woken up with it again today.
Never experienced this problem with pine nuts in the past, and my boyfriend is absolutely fine. So I guess there are just some dodgy batches and it only affects some people.

Bruno Calado says:
16 March 2011

Hi!
I’m Portuguese, and I’ve been in London last December for a new years with my family.
On one of the visits I made to TESCO, I bought a pine nuts pack, since we all like it very much are regularly consume it here in Portugal.
I notice that the shape, size and taste of TESCOS pine nuts are quite different from ours but since I was in a different country, I accept it naturally. After two days eating Pine nuts, we started to feel a horrible metallic taste in our mouth, but at the beginning we did no associate it with the pine nuts.
I brought the pack of pine nuts to Portugal and decided to not eat them for a few weeks. Last month I decided that was time to test the pine nuts and see if the horrible taste appear again… and YES, it did! It toke almost two week for the horrible taste after meals to go away, and now I’m sure that the horrible metallic taste after meals is caused by these pine nuts. These nuts are from China, packed in UK by TESCO’s.
It is another experience to add to yours!

Regards,

Bruno

J Jeffries says:
19 March 2011

My Husband and I are both currently suffering with “pine mouth” we have exactly the same symptoms described by others above. Our pine nuts were bought from TESCO last week and are from China.
We don’t have other symptoms, though the foul taste is bad enough and has completely ruined a whole weekend of planned meals out etc.

I plan to return the pack to the store on Monday, I’m sure they will refund the £6.45 they cost, But I would wager the response will be that they have never heard of similar complaints nor offer an apology for our ruined weekend.