Pine Mouth vs Local Pecans
For many years now, I have gotten a large bag of local pecans from a family just over the border in Georgia. This family has a bunch of pecan trees, and grandma spends time hand cracking open the pecans, puts these beautiful pecans in ziplock baggies, and I go and get them to use through the year. I use these pecan when ever pinenuts, walnuts, or almonds are called for in recipes. I have been making a sort of pecan pesto of late with my Georgian pecans, Barefoot Farmer flat leaf parsley and garlic, and The Olive Press Arbequina olive oil. I take the base ingredients and whirl them up in a food processor, and use it on salads, meat marinades, or simply stirred in with pasta and rice. This stuff is so good!
I have not bought pinenuts for years because the last time I did, these little gems were way more expensive than other nuts, and my local Georgian pecans, so I just substituted my local pecans for the pinenuts. I am sure it has been at least 10 years since I have purchased pine nuts. 10+ years ago, pinenuts were $20/lb more or less. The pinenuts were of either USA or Europe varieties, and the price back then reflected the rareness of the resource, the time and process it takes to harvest pine nuts. Back in the 1980s and 90s, pesto with pinenuts became all the rage for dining experiences, but because pinenuts were so expensive, pesto made with pinenuts was a real treat, something special.
Fast forward 20 years to 2010, with the demand for pesto and pesto made with pinenuts at an all time high with pesto being the sandwich spread of choice over mayo, and a bad year for harvest of pinenuts in the USA and Europe, Chinese pinenuts arrive to the USA through big box price-club stores and mainstream grocery stores at a cheap price. Inexpensive Chinese pinenuts made pesto as common as mayo and ketchup.
BUT, there is one big difference between Chinese pinenuts and USA and European pinenuts, and it is simply that the Chinese variety of pine trees are a different variety than those of the USA and European varieties, and USA and European varieties are also different from each other.
In 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration put out a general warning about Chinese pinenuts. It says that usually 1 to 2 days after eating Chinese pinenuts, peoples perception of food eaten tastes bitter or metallic. This perception may last for a day up to about 2 weeks. The condition will resolve itself without intervention, and does not seem to cause any permanent damage to taste buds. Not everyone is effected, and symptoms vary and duration of symptoms vary as well. It is also noted that the pinenuts tasted good, were fresh, and not rancid when people reported to the FDA about their pine mouth experience. It is hypothesized that the Chinese pinenuts cause pine mouth because of the variety of pine tree, or it is caused by potential haul stripping chemicals during processing in China. The last part is conjecture which I have read in opinion pieces, but it is possible.
There are 4 of who conducted the experiment of eating a couple handfuls of known imported cheap big-box store pinenuts (photo above). One of us had noticeable bitter tasting food, especially sweets. The sweeter the pastry or candy was, the more bitter the taste became. The bitter taste effects started 2 days after dosing, and the bitter taste lasted for about 3 days. Water was neutral, and did not have a bitter taste. Another one of us thought lettuce tasted bitter, but the lettuce came from a the same head of lettuce that was thought to be fresh, green and almost a little sweet days before. Effects started 2 days after dosing, and only lasted for about 4 hours for the 2nd person. For this second person, sweet drinks on day 3 seemed to be as sweet as they ever were, indicating that bitter tasting effects were short lived. The last two claimed no change in taste perception.
If you run this experiment, please leave a comment or email me at LannaeFood at Gmail dot com and tell me about your experience with pinenuts.
For me, I am going to continue to substitute pecans and walnuts myself, and let the pinenuts be.