/ Food & Drink

Bitter taste of ‘pine mouth’ lingers on

Pine nuts in pan

Do you suffer from a metallic taste in your mouth? Have you recently eaten pine nuts? You’re likely suffering from ‘pine mouth’ syndrome. The problem lingers on, despite a list of approved exporters being available.

I haven’t eaten pine nuts for ages as I’m too scared to deal with the horrible aftertaste that’s affected so many.

Ever since we wrote about the phenomenon, we’ve had a continuous stream of comments and emails complaining about “pine mouth” symptoms.

In short, pine mouth is a bitter, metallic aftertaste caused by eating inedible pine nuts from China. You’ll find that it’s often worse after eating and drinking, and can in some cases, lead to nausea and stomach problems.

Pine mouth complaints continue

Last year, measures were reportedly put in place for Chinese authorities to stop the illegal mixing of edible and inedible pine nuts, but it seems like the problem is still rife. Commenter Nic complained of the symptoms:

‘My husband and I have both been experiencing this bitter after taste whenever we eat and drink. I would never have thought to link it to the small sprinkling of pine nuts we had on our salad.’

Chris described the bitter taste as being ‘like walnut skins or grapefruit pith’ – a taste that Joseph has been suffering from for far too long:

‘This is my 9th week with “pine mouth”, I assume, as I have carried out a barrage of investigations to exclude serious disease, all negative. […] I have tried all remedies to no avail.’

Following this influx of complaints, we contacted the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to ask what was being done to sort out this problem. A spokesperson told us that ‘There is now a list of accredited Chinese exporters to buy pine nuts from’.

Are retailers using the list?

Yet, when we contacted the main supermarkets to see if they were aware of this list and using it, there was little consensus. Sainsbury’s, The Co-op, Tesco and Waitrose told us that they now only use suppliers from FSA’s list. Morrisons told us that it only imports two varieties of pine nut, neither of which is associated with pine mouth.

However, Asda said that it had approached the FSA for the list but hadn’t yet received it. And M&S was liaising with the Chinese authorities directly but also hadn’t received the list.

This lack of communication seems crazy. If the list is available, why haven’t all the retailers got it? Why should consumers have to suffer? We’ve told Asda and M&S where they can access the list you might be pleased to know.

But how long will it take for this list to filter down to shop floor? Pine nuts have a pretty long shelf life, so it’s not clear whether supermarkets have taken all ‘pre-accredited’ pine nuts off their shelves. I don’t think I’ll be returning to my love of pesto and pine nuts any time soon.

Instead, I’m going to follow Hannah Joliffe’s advice by toasting sunflower seeds for my salads. But if you’re not willing to give up your pine nuts, have some Medicinal Charcoal tablets to hand, as recommended by commenter Janet – she found they alleviated the bitter aftertaste.

Annie says:
5 May 2011

Thank goodness for Hannah’s advice, I hope this works for me too. I don’t think I could live with this tastes for weeks/months.

As echoed in another post re media -has advice been posted on the BBC website, and shown on Watchdog?

Mike says:
9 June 2014

Just to report
typical pine nut syndrome , persistant bitter taste, after eating pine nuts. lasting days (or more) still there.
source Marks and Spencer green pesto also labelled on top pasta sauce.

Mandy says:
8 May 2011

I am very relieved I found this site. I wondered whether I would have to be subjected to medical tests to find out what is wrong with me – there are other very sinister causes for ‘foul’ tastes in mouth. I have eaten pine nuts regularly for years and this is the first time I have experienced this very unpleasant taste. After making pesto, I had a handful left over and scoffed them… I will complain to Sainsbury’s. Is there anywhere else I should go to report this? Watchdog sounds like a good idea.

Lenka says:
22 May 2011

I bought my in Saynsburyes last week. Does anyone knows if it could harm my baby? Should I stop breastfeed?

Mandy says:
22 May 2011

I have reported my symptoms to Sainsbury’s and they are aware of the phenomenon. I was told that they have a duty to trade ethically in terms of accredited suppliers because of due dilliegence and duty of care standards – however, it seems that somewhere along the line dodgy pine nuts are getting into the food chain. My symptoms lasted for almost 2 weeks but were fading on a daily basis after the first 3 days. From my experience and what I’ve read, there are no harmful effects but I wouldn’t want to advise anyone especially in terms of breastfeeding. Report your circumstances to Sainsbury’s and FSA, keep your packet details if you still have them, the batch number and counrty of origin can be helpful for research purposes. You could also go to your Local Authority Environmental Health Department and report to them. Also speak with your Health Visitor and/or doctor. Sainsbury’s have offered me a bottle of wine and a bunch of flowers, not as an admission of error but as a good will gesture. I’m mulling that one over.

Jo Martin says:
30 May 2011

I have for the first time suffered from ‘Pine Mouth” having bought and eaten some pine nuts from Tesco’s which were sourced from China. It seems, having read the various articles on this website that this is a cyclical problem which the leading supermarkets don’t take particularly seriously. With such a growing list of complaints shouldn’t the supermarkets stop buying Pine nuts from China and source from elsewhere? Or if they do continue to do so, why are they not required to provide a warning?

nicola seymour says:
13 June 2011

Phew! I’m so relieved to have found out what’s been causing me this awful problem, I’ve now been experiencing for several months, being a regular pine nut snacker. I too would have thought this a prime ‘Watchdog’ story – has it been bought to their attention? What are the FSA doing and should I reporting my experiences to them?
I only found out by mentioning the problem to a friend who had heard the story in the news last week, surely there should be far more information publisised at the supermarkets etc and a formal way of recording cases???

KC says:
27 June 2011

I have suffered from ‘Pine Mouth’ over the last weekend, pine nuts from Tesco. I will not be eating pine nuts again. I have contacted Tesco and am awaiting a reply.

Becky says:
22 October 2011

Did you get a reply from Tesco? I have just written a complaint myself as I am in the same position. The pine nuts I have are imported from China, and although I enjoyed the taste and different ‘mouthfeel’ of them when I was eating, they do look different to ‘normal’ pinenuts.

Heidi says:
6 July 2011

I bought a bag of mixed seeds at Holland & Barretts (sunflower, pumpkin & pine nuts) and this has been the cause of my suffering. I have contacted them via their website about my trouble and haven’t heard back yet.

So far, the only thing that helps reduce the time my mouth tastes bitter after eating something is brushing my entire mouth with Aquafresh toothpaste… it reduces the time my mouth tastes bad significantly.

AZ says:
21 July 2011

I recently ate Pine Nuts from Trader Joe’s, package said it was imported from Korea or Russia…so I thought they were safe for consumption. WRONG! I have had pine mouth syndrome for 10 days now and I’m 31 weeks pregnant. Hoping the FSA’s lack of responsibility and action to stop the import of inedible pine nuts does not cause any health issues for my unborn child.

Ann says:
29 July 2011

I’ve had a nasty taste in my mouth when I eat since Sunday 24 July. I was mystified. I thought my dinner was rotten so threw it away but found everything had a nasty chemical taste. After searching the Internet I’m sure it’s Pine mouth because I ate m&s pasta with spinach and pine nuts about 48 hrs earlier. I’d not eaten that before and will certainly not eat pine nuts from m & s again. Thank you which for highlighting this problem.

Nuria says:
2 August 2011

I bought the Neal’s Yard Salad Sprinkle in Holland&Barret 5 days ago, the horrible taste started next day and didn’t go away with anything, getting a little better the following days and today almost gone (hopefully for good!). No other simptoms. I was starting to be really worried when I found this conversation, tks so much for all the links and explanations, all more clear now! It’s been going on for a couple of years now and never heard about it before, and nothing is been done as is still happening! The seeds pack says “Packed in UK”, not a word where the seeds come from. Isn’t it compulsory to mention that?
I’ll email H&B and the toxicology link and let you know how it goes

Nuria says:
2 August 2011

I found a document from the Food Standars Agency from 30 Jun 2011 about this, updating its advise to local authorities and requesting that every consumer complaint about “pine mouth” must be investigated and the business selling the illegal pine nuts, not fit for human consumption, must withdrawal them from the market. Maybe results, after 2 years of nothing being done!