Pine nuts

Cheap Chinese pine nut exports blamed for rare condition

Cheap Chinese exports of pine nuts have been blamed for a rare mouth condition that leaves a bitter aftertaste for weeks.

THEY ARE THE trendy ingredient popular with celebrity chefs including Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, but experts believe cheap pine nuts from China are to blame for a medical condition that leaves bitter aftertaste for up to nine weeks.

British supermarkets have now pledged to import only from approved suppliers after customers complained of a foul, metallic taste in their mouths. The Food Standards Agency is investigating hundreds of cases of ‘pine mouth’ reported over the past two years.

Pine nuts are a popular ingredient in pesto, salads and Italian dishes. Jamie Oliver says a warm pancetta and pine nut salad is one of his “favourite comfort foods”.

However, customers have flooded the Sainsbury’s website forum to complain of having their palate ruined for weeks and a Facebook group for sufferers has been set up, with 577 members.

Linda Morris, 37, a mother-of-two from Sevenoaks, Kent, had the condition after eating Waitrose pine nuts brought through Ocado.

She said: “It was not like an allergic reaction because it took a couple of days to show. The taste in my mouth was so horrible. I couldn’t finish a glass of red wine because it just tasted so bad to me. I think it is stupid that these can be on sale and nobody seems to know what causes it.”

Scientists have been investigating the cause of the short-term illness since it was first reported in 2001.

Now China – which supplies most of the world’s pine nuts – has admitted some exporters have been mixing the Pinus koraiensis variety with the cheaper but inedible Pinus armandii.

The latter are deemed “unfit for human consumption” by food safety experts at the European Commission but the lack of long-term harm means regulators have stopped short of a recall or a ban on imports.

Sainsbury’s confirmed it had changed its policy.

A spokesman said: “Scientific research into the causes of pine mouth is ongoing but the link to certain species has only been made in the last few months. Since then, we have specified to use only Pinus koraiensis species….

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