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Problem with pine nuts affecting taste sensation


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Hi there Egulleters,

Just thought I'd share something fairly curious I discovered last night with you...

My flatmate managed to consume pine nuts in a couple of restaurant meals at the weekend (salads, pesto etc.) and is now suffering from some terrible affliction where everything she eats (and I do mean everything) tastes of nothing but soapy water or metal! it's a recognised taste disturbance and apparently it can last 1-3 weeks! she's miserable because everything she tries to eat makes her feel sick.

Here's the wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine_nuts

It's a problem called 'triglycerides', and seems to be confined primarily to pine nuts from china (hey - maybe they're fake pine nuts... but what would you make fake pine nuts out of?!)

Anyone have any insight to share on this? I need my palate for a living so I'm not going to chance it. Too risky. Each pine nut you eat could be your last...

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Here's a link to the paper cited by the Wikipedia article. Seems to be a case where some oxidized nuts caused the reaction, while most were fine.

Examination of the pine nuts [that caused the reaction] revealed they were oxidized and not fit for consumption.

and

A student in pharmacy undertook chromatographic examinations on two samples involved in the taste disturbances and compared them with pine nuts from other origins. This led to the isolation of constituants compatible with triglycerids, formed by 16-18°C unsaturated fatty acids. The role of those triglycerids in the taste disturbances remains hypothetic.

I know I've eaten lots of pine nuts -- plain and in things. Never had them go rancid, and never experienced that taste disorder.

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Here's a link to the paper cited by the Wikipedia article. Seems to be a case where some oxidized nuts caused the reaction, while most were fine.
Examination of the pine nuts [that caused the reaction] revealed they were oxidized and not fit for consumption.

and

A student in pharmacy undertook chromatographic examinations on two samples involved in the taste disturbances and compared them with pine nuts from other origins. This led to the isolation of constituants compatible with triglycerids, formed by 16-18°C unsaturated fatty acids. The role of those triglycerids in the taste disturbances remains hypothetic.

I know I've eaten lots of pine nuts -- plain and in things. Never had them go rancid, and never experienced that taste disorder.

Can someone explain how a pine nut gets oxydized?

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Here's a link to the paper cited by the Wikipedia article. Seems to be a case where some oxidized nuts caused the reaction, while most were fine.
Examination of the pine nuts [that caused the reaction] revealed they were oxidized and not fit for consumption.

and

A student in pharmacy undertook chromatographic examinations on two samples involved in the taste disturbances and compared them with pine nuts from other origins. This led to the isolation of constituants compatible with triglycerids, formed by 16-18°C unsaturated fatty acids. The role of those triglycerids in the taste disturbances remains hypothetic.

I know I've eaten lots of pine nuts -- plain and in things. Never had them go rancid, and never experienced that taste disorder.

Can someone explain how a pine nut gets oxydized?

Just like anything else that will oxidize, carbon compounds. Either the loss of hydrogen or a gain of oxygen. Leave it exposed to the atmosphere too long and it will oxidize.

Dean Anthony Anderson

"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This

Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

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Can someone explain how a pine nut gets oxydized?

Any fats (lipids) in any food will oxidize over time, this is commonly referred to as going "rancid". This is most notable in pure fats and oils as there are relatively few other flavors to cover up the rancidity. Poly-unsaturated oils are the most prone to these oxidation reactions, this is why things like fish oil and canola oil go rancid relatively quickly. Exposure to heat, light, oxygen and many (most?) metals will accelerate this process.

Pine nuts, like any "nut", have a fairly substantial fat (lipid) content (probably high in polyunsaturates as well, though I'm not certain of that) and will oxidize given enough time.

If you are interested I have pages and pages on the topic around here somewhere.

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Oh, great. I just stocked up on nuts at TJ's. First I had to throw out an unopened bag of pistachios due to the salmonella scare, and now I'm afraid to eat my pine nuts. I got the big bag of them, too!

Please eat them and report back. I'll be the control group :biggrin:

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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Your reaction is not unusual. Our recipe author ( http://theromantictable.com ) doesn't like to use pine nuts at all, especially in Pestos. To quote her.

"The Pine nuts that are sold here are actually gown and processed in China, Spain or Portugal. By the time the product reaches us, they're already getting old. And I have found that when they're roasted prior to cooking they have a slight bitter taste."

Triglycerides are part of your blood lipids, and we all have them. Usually when we have elevated triglycerides (which affects your overall cholesterol level in a bad way) it more a result of enjoying a few glasses of wine too many rather than eating nuts which usually are very healthy.

Larry McGourty

TheRomanticTable.com Food and Wine News from the California Central Coast.

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I've never experienced this long-lasting reaction, but any time I taste pine nuts plain here in the US I detect some rancidity, and therefore make my pesto with local walnuts. I wonder if it is one of those things that depends on you individual taste receptors, like cilantro, as oxidized triglycerides in pine nuts are, in my experience, the norm rather than the exception.

On a slightly different note, a friend once gave me some in the shell piñon from New Mexico which were delicious, but quite difficult to shell while leaving the seed intact. I tried the towel plus rolling pin technique and ended up pulverizing several while still leaving several whole. Anyone have any hints? The fresh seeds were so sweet and delicious that I ended up hand(or tooth) shelling most of them and eating them plain, but I'm hoping there is an easier way.

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Well, what do you know. I started researching this problem last night after the first thing I put to my mouth yesterday (a glass of orange) juice produced a nasty bitter and lasting aftertaste and since then every food I've ingested has produced the same reaction. I was getting a little freaked out and last night I started to do some research. Guess, what I ate both on Sunday and Monday? Pine nuts purchased from Whole Foods Market.

Does anyone know a remedy for this? I just had a croissant for breakfast and it was utterly ruined by the bitter taste. It's been a good 30 minutes since I stopped eating and I still have this horrible taste in the back of my mouth. :sad:

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Triglycerides are a common type of fat; here's what the American Heart Association has to say about them. I don't really understand why they'd be the culprit, since they appear in most other fatty foods as well.

Triglycerides are the most common fat in cooking. Butter, any animal fat, veg oil are all mostly triglyceride.

Triglycerides are made of three fatty acids that are attached to a glycerol molecule. Variations between triglycerides are always in the attached fatty acids which can have varying lengths and degrees of saturation. It is concievable that pine nuts have a unique fatty acid that, when split off the triglyceride, can mess up taste buds.

But this whole issue doesn't sound quite right to me. The effect is too long lasting to be a typical kind of biological effect.

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I intern at a food magazine and this same phenomenon occurred to one of the editors I work with there (sadly ironic for someone whose profession is food) just last week. As I understand it there is no remedy, you just have to wait it out.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Any updates on remmedies for the pine nut affliction?

My girlfriend has been gagging on all food for the last four days. She says it tastes like something died in the back of her throat.

Diagnosis by google pointed to every kind of horrible chronic gastric disturbance, until I noticed that none of those conditions produced a foul taste specifically when you eat. A bit more snooping around pointed to pine nuts ... which she'd eaten the day before.

We're all relieved that she's not dying, but a cure would be nice.

She read that acids like vinegar can help, so she ate a salad with tons of vinnaigrette. It helped, but only for the duration of the salad.

Notes from the underbelly

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  • 2 months later...

Just noticed that this has now (16 July) come to the notice of the UK Food Standards Agency.

http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2009/jul/pinenut

The Agency has received several reports over the last few months of pine nuts that have caused a bitter taste for some people who have eaten them.

This is not a food safety issue, but the Agency is trying to get more information about why this is happening.

The Agency has been in contact with the Poisons Centre in Belgium, which has researched this phenomenon. They investigated this issue in 2001 but have been unable to find a cause for the bitter taste that some people have experienced. Batches shown to cause the unusual taste and batches giving no effects were compared and no chemical differences could be found to which the bitter taste could definitely be attributed.

The bitter taste usually disappears after a few days but has been reported to last for as long as two weeks. As far as the Agency is aware, no adverse health effects have been associated with these symptoms.

The Agency will continue to monitor these reports. However, the current lack of information on why and how this effect occurs is limiting the scope for further investigation.

If you wish to contact us on this issue or have experienced this effect and would like your case recorded, please send details of the pine nuts you consumed and the length of time you experienced the bitter taste for to toxicology@foodstandards.gsi.gov.uk.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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  • 2 months later...

Had an interesting experience over the last two weeks. First a little backround. I'm a 55 year old anesthetist who after growing up in Louisiana have always had an interest in food and the professional food life. I worked my way through school in New Orleans at several of the high end restaurants in New Orleans. After a long career in medicine it was time to go to culinary school and live the dream. We have a good, well funded, well supported school at the local community college, so I enrolled about a year ago. It's been a great experience and I am enjoying it immensely. About two weeks ago we were studying the various grains in a Veg/Starch class. The chef has a great teaching method where he teaches all of the basic recipes and then challenges us with a curveball ingredient and assigns us to research and cook it at home. Well we were being taught basic rice, pilaf and risotto techniques in class and the secret ingredient that he sent us home with was quinoa. He told us that while quinoa was basically a simple prep he expected a dressed up pilaf.

I had made quinoa before so I set about improving on the basic pilaf with a middle eastern bent of sweet curry, golden raisins and some toasted pine nuts. Normally I bite the bullet and go to Whole Foods for high quality ingredients and since I had quinoa in the pantry I went to the local grocery and grabbed some golden raisins and pine nuts. The local store has recently added a "Health Food" section with the ubiquitous bulk bins of grains, rices, nuts and the like. So suspected that the ingredients would be fresh and a step up.

On a monday I made a nice quinoa pilaf with curry, raisins and pine nuts. Delicious, and quite well received by my wife. As usual we had leftovers and the next day I found myself approaching leftover pilaf/risotto the way I always do. A cup of leftover pilaf, an egg and some breadcrumbs voila a browned patty with some aoli and great lunch. Well on wednesday, the next day, I got up and made myself some toast and coffee. With the first bite of toast I experienced a horrid, bitter taste that almost made me gag. I assumed the bread, which I had made two days before, was bad. I rinsed my mouth out with water. I took a drink of my coffee, I experienced an immediate repeat of the awful taste sensation. After tasting several different raw vegetables with similar results I began to run down the possibilities. With my medical backround I went to the differential diagnosis for acute changes of taste sensation. 1) Brain Tumor, 2) Liver failure and 3) Some weird metabolic disease. None of these possibilities were particularly heartening so I turned to the source of all knowledge, "The Internet". After googling "Acute Taste Alteration" I received several returns that immediately pointed to a very recent phenomenon connected to the ingestion of pine nuts.

Very few cases reports were from the US, the oldest one I could find was in mid April of this year, most seemed to have occurred starting last year in Europe and seemed to be related to new sourcing of pine nuts from China. A scientist from Britain speculates that it either related to rancidity of the triglycerides or some basic difference in chinese pine nuts. He seems to have ruled out heavy metal or some other toxic cause. Onset is up to three days after ingestion and it seems to persist for 1-3 weeks. Mine lasted one week. My wife was not affected. Research is ongoing. The grocery chain that I bought the pine nuts at has a nutritionist on staff and I sat down with her to explain my story and she states that she has not had any other reports.

Anyone else?

Even Samantha Brown would have hard time summoning a "wow" for this. Anthony Bourdain

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Well, this is not quite in the same ballpark. :laugh:

I have always been a great coffee drinker.

One day in the early winter of 1960, I realized that my cup of coffee tasted AWFUL, really awful. Guess what? I had just discovered an early pregnancy test for myself and with the next two children I could tell immediately when I was pregnant.

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

Cheers & Chocolates

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Well, this is not quite in the same ballpark. :laugh:

I have always been a great coffee drinker.

One day in the early winter of 1960, I realized that my cup of coffee tasted AWFUL, really awful. Guess what? I had just discovered an early pregnancy test for myself and with the next two children I could tell immediately when I was pregnant.

My thinking is that it is a protective mechanism for the unborn baby.

Pregnant women seem to detect off flavours much more readily than most people, indicating that they will avoid foods which are potentially dangerous to the child.

In fact most seem to do it by smell before they actually eat the food, in answer to the question of when it finishes, my experience (not personal you will understand) is that sometimes it does not disappear at all but becomes part of that person.

Seems almost like pregnancy triggered supertasters (I wonder if it is the same mechanism?)

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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