Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gadzooks! Pine Mouth and You

What's any brewer's worst nightmare? It's probably being stung to death by bees, although never being able to taste a good beer again must be a close second. Before getting into the gory details, let's identify why this health-related article belongs on a beer blog.

As a reader of this blog, it's probably fair to assume that you like the finer things in life.Since it happens to be a beer blog, it's probably safe to assume that the finer things you like aren't Louis XIII Cognac and Beluga Caviar (more like manager's special London Broil and Barefoot Cabernet.) Even though I won't be seeing you on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous anytime soon (I don't have cable and it's not 1985,) I bet more than a few of you shop at gourmet grocery stores like Whole Foods or Wegmans. Be warned: a taste bud adulterator lurks in the shadows (or more precicely the bulk foods aisle.)

A few weeks ago I woke up with a horrible taste in my mouth. This taste was so indescribably bitter that the only thing that even comes close is aspirin. No foods are this bitter unless they are poisonous, medicine, or found in your vegetable crisper five years after purchase. Naturally, I assumed I needed to brush my teeth.

I wasn't able to maintain my usual level of enthusiasm while performing my daily rituals. The toothpaste tasted horrible, the rinse water tasted horrible and my breakfast tasted horrible. Even my usual worship of the coffee gods was tainted by some nefarious presence. "Is nothing sacred?" is what I would like to have been thinking, although in reality it was more like "Am I dying from jaundice?" Upon quick inspection my skin and eyeballs weren't yellow. A mystery was developing.

As this torture continued during the day, I started poking around on the internet. We all know the internet is where stupid people give bad advice to other stupid people, so it seemed like the logical starting place. I'm convinced that Yahoo Answers is the single leading cause of grievous bodily injury on the planet, but in this cesspit of lies, filth, and coupon offers I did start noticing trends. Severe bitter taste is caused by the side effect from medications, jaundice, diabetes, and many other terrible diseases (mostly relating to bile in the back of the throat.) There was one other needle in this haystack however: pine nuts.

There were an unusual number of posts and articles about pine nuts causing a bitter taste in the mouth. This taste starts a few days after consuming the nuts and lasts for a few weeks. What was funny is that almost all of these posts mentioned how they too discovered an unusual number of posts on this subject. For any of you programmers out there, "UnusualPineNutPosts++."

A few days previous to my tragic discovery, my wife and I made some salad from fresh greens, goat cheese, pickled onions and pine nuts. I bought these pine nuts at Whole Foods, where coincidentally they had a shortage of them and only had one brand in the store. I thought it was odd at the time; now I suspect that do to a supply shortage they bought from a less reputable supplier. I called my wife and she too had an unexplained (although much less severe) bitter taste.

This should explain why I can't post a beer review this week. I think the symptoms are mostly gone, but my mastery of subtle tastes has not returned. Hops specifically require my bitter senses to be at peak, but if I wrote a review right now I suspect I would consider nearly every beer excessively hoppy (even mead.) To all you gormands out there: beware of tainted pine nuts.

From what I read, pine nuts from Italy seem to be fine. Most of the reported cases of "Pine Mouth" seem to be the result of people eating pine nuts from Asia (mainly China.) Leading experts (since there really aren't any, this means stupid people on Yahoo Answers,) think that there may be a fungus specific to this region that causes the reaction. More likely, some think that farmers are substituting a portion of inedible pine nuts to bulk up their harvest. Either way, stay away from pine nuts from Asia.

I may get a chance to brew on Sunday; let's hope my condo association allows the turkey fryer...

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