Got to love pine nuts. Their slight crunch, the creaminess, the, well, nuttiness. Such versatile little chaps: they mingle with salads, play nicely with in sweets, flirt with the bread department and excel in sandwiches. And they are such a typical Veggiestani ingredient. BUT they can also destroy your sense of taste at thirty paces.
Not a lot of people know this, but Chinese pine nuts (specifically those of the genus P.Armandii) can trigger something which has become known as Pine Mouth (sounds unfortunately like a bovine ailment, no?) or PNS (Pine Nut Syndrome). And PNS, albeit really quite harmless, is utterly disgusting. It hits 2-3 days after consuming the little buggers, and (in my case) came on very suddenly. I was halfway through eating a kookoo (made by my mother-in-law) when my mouth just filled with bitter-than-bitter-aloes bitterness: I did fleetingly wonder if she was trying to poison me, but as we get on famously this thought was rapidly replaced with panic. Washing the food down with water made things worse, as did a spoonful of honey and an orange. Everything I ate tasted fine at first, but within seconds my tastebuds rebelled and produced this awful awful taste.
After 2 days I broke my self-imposed medical-Google embargo and searched for other bitter mouth sufferers. And it seems that there are thousands of us out there. THIS WEBSITE was the most helpful, and it does scientific stuff too (which is way more helpful than my hand-flappy-oh-my-God kind of approach). The gist of it is that these rogue pine nuts strike at random
in the stealth of night, can affect absolutely anyone (and yet if you prove susceptible once it does not mean that the PNS will recur if you eat them again), and that symptoms can last from a few days to a couple of months. Pine nuts from Russia/Korea etc seem completely blameless – it is uniquely the genus above which causes the condition.
I have posted this not to put you off pine nuts, or Chinese products, but to make you aware of the condition, so that if you are unlucky enough to experience it you will not panic or have to wade through the terrifying morass of looking for health symptoms on-line. Also, it may come up in the pub quiz one day…