Pine Mouth, the Surprising Source of a Metallic Taste in my Mouth

Chemical taste Pine Mouth

One morning in 2013, I took the first sip of my morning coffee and almost died. The coffee tasted like turpentine, no kidding! I poured the pot down the drain, made another fresh pot, and was puzzled when it was just as bad. Since I was preparing it with the same just-ground coffee I’d used all week, I began to suspect that something in our water was causing a chemical taste in my mouth.

Then I drank some orange juice, which tasted like Liquid Plumber. My morning oatmeal? Rat poison would have tasted better. The Greek yogurt I loved so much had a distinctive, oven cleaner-like taste. Slowly it dawned on me that something was very wrong with my taste buds.

This led me to the internet, home of a million possible frightening medical calamities. Searching for “chemical taste in mouth”  and “metallic taste in mouth” brought up several scary possibilities, including  diabetes, cancer, chemical poisoning, and autoimmune and neurological disorders, to name a few. Holy guacamole! Not only were my taste buds shot, I was a goner!

Fortunately, I stumbled across a report from ABC News about a rare reaction to pine nuts called “Pine Mouth Syndrome.” Sure enough, I had eaten three (you read that right – 3) little pine nuts two days prior to my taste buds going haywire. These tiny pine nuts had come in a packet of seasonings with a dish I’d received as a gift, made in China. I tried a couple of the nuts to see how they tasted and ended up throwing them away. But apparently, just that tiny amount was enough to give me the taste disturbance known medically as metallogeusia.

Since I’ve eaten pine nuts for many years without a reaction, I was inclined to believe the theory that Pine Mouth is caused by certain non-edible varieties of pine nuts from China that are being exported into the U.S. and passed off as the edible variety. Not surprisingly, these Chinese pine nuts are much cheaper than edible, U.S. grown pine nuts. It’s suspected that they are harvested from Chinese White Pine, a source of turpentine.

Pine Mouth can last up to a month (!), but in my case it lasted nine days—which seemed like a very long time for this food lover. Everything from toothpaste to Mexican food to chocolate chip cookies to Chardonnay tasted chemical-y. I returned to the internet in desperation and searched for a cure. The passage of time seemed to be the only real remedy for a case of Pine Mouth, although someone suggested rinsing the mouth with vinegar. Since the cure sounded as bad as the malady, I tried swishing with fresh lemon juice instead and it seemed to ease the symptoms a bit.

The lesson for me is to be extra-vigilant in my awareness of the source of my food. I haven’t stopped eating pine nuts, but I’m now careful to eat only those varieties that are fresh and U.S.-grown like authentic New Mexico Pinon Nuts. How about you? Have you ever suffered through a case of Pine Mouth?

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of 15 books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

14 thoughts on “Pine Mouth, the Surprising Source of a Metallic Taste in my Mouth”

  1. YES! It was scary at the time, I didn’t know what was causing it, and it was BAD! I had bought the pine nuts at an Korean market and didn’t realize that me sprinkling them on my salad was the problem. A friend clued me in and I threw the buggers away! Thanks for pointing out that it is not all pine nuts as my friend lead me to believe.

    • Victoria, I’m so sorry that you’ve experienced this, too. It’s hard to even describe how awful it is to have your taste buds making everything taste like poison, isn’t it? Glad you’re feeling better. xo

  2. Wow that is FREAK-Y. I’ve never heard of such a thing, but I can believe it. Gosh that must have been so scary and weird. I’m glad you figured it out and it went away. I’ve never bought pine nuts, but thanks for letting us know to be careful before eating any!

  3. Just watch out for cheap pine nuts from unidentified sources, which is probably good advice no matter what! 🙂

  4. 9 days from 3 pine nuts!!! That’s crazy. I’m glad you figured it out, I’m always scared to look up symptoms on the internet. I feel like a stubbed toe can somehow lead to cancer online.

  5. Hi, I am experiencing this malady as I write. The countries of origin of the nuts stated on the package are “Korea, Russia and Vietnam”. The seller, a well known food emporium based in Monrovia CA, apparently has a caveat on the back of the package warning about this!! Who knew!! Do I have to read every package of food I buy to see where it comes from?? The answer is now YES!

  6. Wow! So you might have solved this mystery for me! Pine nuts were definitely not on my list of possible explinations for this off taste in my mouth. I have a case of poison ivy that left me wondering, did some get in my mouth??? It’s like a chemical burn feeling. I’ve been on a steroid thanks to this case of poison ivy, that could do it, right? And I’ve been around clove oil trying to kill the poison ivy roots in the yard. (I would use round up in this case but we didn’t have any). Then there’s the fact that I’ve been laying mulch for a week in our yard. Feel like it gives me that menthol cigarette taste. Hmmmmm…. I’ve also eaten dairy a bit which I typically avoid– and has a way of coating my mouth and making food more tasteless. It feels like I burnt my taste buds with coffee, or ate too many salt and vinegar chips. Strawberries yesterday tasted just like nail polish remover…This has persisted for days! So hard know the source. But pine nuts??? So interesting because I just had a yummy pesto pizza from a reputable pizza place twice in the last week (leftovers the second time!) . You’ve got me wondering if that is actually the source of this issue! A month, huh? Well, I’ll try the vinegar rinse and see if that helps. Thanks!

    • Lisa, I’m so sorry you had to experience this strange malady. It sounds like you did an excellent job of sleuthing all possible causes. You may want to mention your experience to the pizza restaurant, in case they recently switched pine nut suppliers. Hope you feel better very soon! xoxo


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