Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Dangers of Pine Nuts

Have you heard of Pine Mouth? If you value your palate, or if your work depends on your ability to taste accurately, read on about this very disturbing condition. In the last year there have been reports that pine nuts imported from China have been causing unusual reactions in some people that range from a mild metallic taste in their mouths to a complete loss of taste for up to 14 days.

I've eaten pine nuts all my life and never had a problem till this past year. In the past 10 months I've had pine nuts from Sun Ridge Farms that are supposedly from Santa Cruz and experienced bad reactions with two different bags. But other times I’ve used Sun Ridge Farms and had no reaction. The bag states they are manufactured in Santa Cruz, but the package copy reads: “Our buyers travel extensively throughout the world to visit farms and ensure we pack only the freshest, most delicious and highest quality nuts and seeds available.” Well then that might explain the inconsistency in the packages. It seems that Sun Ridge Farms does not grow pine nuts, they just source them. Perhaps some of those “high quality" nuts came from China?

The same thing has occurred with pine nuts bought in bulk from Whole Foods. Sometimes they were fine and sometimes not.

How I used them did not seem to matter. I once made pesto and experienced a 12-day period of metallic taste and slight tingling burning sensation on my tongue. I also had a bad experience when I lightly toasted the nuts and tossed them over roasted broccoli.

It is only after I searched for the causes and symptoms of severe “metallic taste” that I came across the “pine mouth” posts (see more links below) that described my experience exactly. In addition to the bad taste, I noticed a slight swollen feeling and pale coating on my tongue.

In my case, the symptoms came on the day after and sometimes two days after eating pine nuts. In all instances the symptoms went away after 5 to 15 days, with my ability to taste as normal, increasing gradually each day.

The first time this happened it was very disturbing and I kept thinking it was due to tainted almonds or cheerios since that was what I ate when I first noticed the horrible taste. Subsequently, I was able to trace the common denominator of pine nuts in each occurrence.

If you are not sure if this ever happened to you, I can assure you it hasn’t-- because if it did, you would definitely know. It is not a mild annoyance by any means. It’s quite horrible. In fact, if this sensation could be purposefully induced, it would become the worlds best diet aid ever because you really can’t eat it’s so awful. It makes you avoid all food. Drinking wine while this is happening is impossible. It tastes like poison. Scary stuff.

So my big reason for writing this is to warn others. As much as I love pesto and using pine nuts in recipes, I have decided to delete them from my diet forever. I will make an exception when I am in Italy and the pine nuts are local. But otherwise it’s just too risky and who knows what the cause really is? We know so little about our food and where it really comes from. Unless we grow it ourselves, it’s impossible to know. We all know what happened with the pet food from China. I’m not going to gamble with Chinese pine nuts.

My advice to wineries…I would absolutely avoid the use of pine nuts in any recipes you serve for food pairings and forbid your caterers to use them at your events. It would be very easy for someone to mistakenly believe your wine is horrid, when what they are really experiencing is a reaction to pine nuts. None of my pine nut reactions have been instant, it’s always been a day or two later, but why take the risk?

Links for Further Reading:

EXCERPT From Wikpedia-- Risks of eating pine nuts:
A small minority of pine nuts can cause taste disturbances, developing 1–3 days after consumption and lasting for days or weeks. A bitter, metallic taste is described. Though very unpleasant, there are no lasting effects. This phenomenon was first described in a scientific paper in 2001. Some publications have made reference to this phenomenon as "pine mouth". This is a relatively new phenomenon and appears to be most common in nuts coming from China. It has been theorized that the nut trees are absorbing something and passing it on to the nuts, or the nuts themselves are being treated with something before packaging. It is also possible that the nuts have spoiled and are rancid, causing the metallic taste disturbance. Also, it has been hypothesized that this bitter side effect is caused by an allergy that some people may have to pine nuts, but this does not explain the recent appearance of this syndrome. Metallic taste disturbance known as metallogeusia, are reported 1–3 days after ingestion, being worse on day 2 and lasting for up to 2 weeks. Cases were self-limited and resolve without treatment.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Local Flavors

There is nothing quite as nice as being able to walk out your front door and less than twelve minutes later be at a great local wine shop. In Sebastopol our local shop is the Wine Emporium, owned by Tom West. They have a wonderful wine selection and a fabulous tasting line up that changes monthly. They also host terrific events featuring local artists and musicians.

Last Friday we attend a reception for Charles Beck, a landscape artist we recently met on the open art studios tour. Beck’s work captures the essence of Sonoma. If you are a local and missed his open studio you can a view a sampling of his work at the Wine Emporium for the next month or so. An added bonus at the art reception was musician Tara Linda providing a lush musical accompaniment to the wine, art and edibles on hand. I was blown away by Tara’s relaxing, yet upbeat and eclectic style. Her music filed the space without overwhelming it. It was bistro with a beat, sensual and hip with a Cowboy Junkies meets Norton Buffalo sensibility. Anyway, I bought two of her CDs on the spot and have been listening to them ever since.

Naturally, the Wine Emporium features local wines from the area, but they also carry many international labels and I brought home a bottle of Naia, a Verdejo from Rueda in Spain, the purchase of which I think was influenced as much by the music, as what was in my glass. Never underestimate the power of pairing wine and music. The Naia was crisp and spicy with a grapefruit scent and a bright citrus top note. Perfect for a hot summer evening with some grilled chicken or tuna steaks marinated in a ginger-soy sauce. Have at it.

If you are in Sebastopol, or just passing through, take the time to check out the Wine Emporium. Pull up a chair at the wine bar, chat with Al, and let him take you on a mini tasting tour of the day’s offerings. You can even tell Al I sent you. He probably won’t know who you are talking about, but he will take special care of you regardless…it’s that kind of a place.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pride of Palate

Domo in Paris by Lily Chou

Back in March I attend the Diageo Chateau & Estate Burgundy Tour tasting and wrote about it here. Recently I saw that a white burgundy I raved about at the tasting, the 2007 Domaine Philippe Colin Grand Cru Chevalier-Montrachet -- received 95 points from Wine Spectator.

I always say points or no points it’s what you like that counts. But I did feel quite smug and somewhat proud that I selected the same wine as something quite special. Even though I preach taste for yourself, it was somewhat validating to know that my palate knew it was on to something special and that wine "experts" agreed it was exceptional.

Here’s what I wrote about it back then:
The Grand Cru Chevalier-Montrachet 2007 gob-smacked me. I am still thinking about it five days later. It was classic and elegant like a signature scent. If Chanel No. 5 was a wine this might be it. Despite being 14% alcohol it had a food friendly demeanor with a long loving embrace of a finish. It was the essence of ambrosia. I was completely captivated by this wine.
My top three reds (all 2007's) also received high points:
Jean Grivot Clos de Vougeot --92
Doamine de Courcel Pommard Grand Clos des Epenots --90
G. Rounier Morey-St.-Denis Clos de la Bussiere --91

I know it’s popular for wine bloggers to dis the old guard wine writers and especially those from the big glossy magazines, but I don’t feel that way. I just think you need to form your own opinions and not rely solely on points or reviews by others.

The most important thing you get from having a wide experience tasting many wines is confidence. If I’m at a winery and I don’t care for a particular wine, I feel I can really trust my palate. No need to second-guess it. Tasting rooms are sales rooms after all, and sometimes you can be swayed by more than what is in the glass. So pay attention to the wine first.

It’s been three months now and I’m still thinking about those wines of Burgundy. I seriously need to consider a journey to France and visit the land where they are made. (Sponsorship anyone? Please chime in.)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...