>Beware of (Chinese) pine nuts

>Fresh basil from the garden, local garlic, some genuine parmesan cheese — and some awful pine nuts from China.

This is close to the recipe for pesto, but that last ingredient renders it a recipe for “pine mouth” — a hideously bitter taste that kicks in about 24 hours after you eat the pine nuts and then recurs every time you eat anything for up to a week or two.


No one knows why this problem — which doesn’t affect everyone who eats the pine nuts — is associated with Chinese pine nuts, not European or American ones. But it is.

Unhappy anecdotal accounts abound; check out this one from the Cincinnati Enquirer’s food writer, who was felled by a homemade salad with pine nuts. She’d gotten them at Trader Joe’s, which said the nuts were from Korea, Russian, or Vietnam. She was so traumatized by two weeks of having everything turn to bitter ashes in her mouth that she vowed never to eat another pine nut, no matter where it comes from.

Not me.

I’m now shopping for safe pine nuts for my next batch of pesto. It seems that the American pine nut industry has been pretty much driven out of business (it’s too labor-intensive to compete with cheap imports). However, I bought some lovely pine nuts in Arizona last year from a road-side truck in Flagstaff and have come across a homey online purveyor from the Southwest:

• Goods from the Woods — their fresh raw shelled American pine nuts are currently being harvested and will be available soon. $38 a pound.

For the traditional European pine nut:

• Nuts Online — Mediterranean pine nuts at $34 a pound.

Nuts Online ordering system gives the option of sending a message with the gift. It was tempting to check “Get Well Soon” for my pine nut order!

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