It started off so well, one of those effortlessly lovely warm-weather meals. Pan-fried gurnard, fresh tomato sambal, gently sautéed slices of Perla new potatoes (more on them here), and a generous sprinkling of milky, sweet pine nuts.
And thus began four bitter, bitter days – as in everything I ate and drank tasted appallingly bitter and rankly medicinal. Ever the optimist, I assumed the universe had simply grown tired of merely cuffing me and had seen fit to dismiss me altogether with a wee stroke or perhaps a touch of the old brain tumour. But, just in case, I decided to indulge in a little web-based self diagnosis. After about a day of increasingly jittery clicking I established that I was almost certainly not dying, but I almost certainly did have a case of the absurdly named Pine Mouth. I kid you not.
Around a decade ago Doctors in Europe and the United States started seeing cases of otherwise-healthy people reporting an unpleasant bitter taste whenever they ate or drank. The effect lasted from a few days to almost a month. The only common factor among the cases was that the subjects had all consumed pine nuts around 24 hours before the symptoms began.
As the plot thickened it also became apparent that the pine nuts in question were exclusively of the low (ish) cost Chinese kind. It’s a little-known fact that China is one of the world’s largest producers of pine nuts, and until a decade ago, without incident. So what gives? What happened to Chinese pine nuts 10 years ago? The most obvious answers- pesticide contaminations and rancid nuts – were both quickly ruled out as possible causes. The most popular and plausible current theory (as yet unproven), is that around 10 years ago Chinese growers started adulterating (quite possibly unknowingly) their harvests with a small percentage of a previously untargeted species of mildly toxic pine nut.
There is some evidence to suggest susceptibility to the condition may be hereditary, and even then appears to be highly random. The majority of Chinese pine nuts – fresh or stale – will not cause Pine Mouth. Interestingly though, despite thousands of reported cases (and undoubtedly many more undiagnosed) of Pine Mouth, neither the Chinese pine nut industry nor wholesalers worldwide have shown much interest in stopping the problem, or at least identifying the cause. Fortunately, European pine nuts (pinus pinea) do not cause Pine Mouth; unfortunately they are hard to find and are heinously expensive. Never the less, in lieu of some pretty compelling persuasion, I won’t be taking the risk with the Chinese product again.
On a lighter note: now that my sense of taste is about 95% restored, I’m very much looking forward to Taste of Auckland 2010. This event, held at Victoria Park from November 18th to 21st is effectively (and quite smartly, I think), a hybrid of an expo and a food and wine festival, and features the edible and quaffable wares some of the region’s finest food producers, restaurants and wineries.
A number of things about Taste of Auckland appeal to me:
It’s at Victoria Park, a lovely and a woefully underutilised venue.
I missed the Food Show this year, so this should satisfy my grabby need for free samples.
Most Food and Wine festivals are held in high summer when it’s too bloody hot to be outside, and too bloody easy to get sozzled.
What’s not to like?
To win tickets to Taste Auckland click here.