Pine Nut Warning

It’s pesto season, so I thought I’d do my part to spread the warning about a recent pine nut problem. Apparently (according to this thread on Chowhounds), there is a problem with some pine nuts, including the crop that are in the markets around Montreal right now. It appears to be specific to the cheaper ones from China and Korea.

Apparently there’s some kind of oxidization going on, and the result is that after you eat something made with these pine nuts, you experience a bitter taste in your mouth that can last for a few days up to three weeks. It can ruin your appetite, so maybe it’s a good thing for those who are looking to shed a few pounds, but for the rest of us (ok, I’m looking to shed a few pounds, but not this way), it’s something to be aware of.

Fortunately it doesn’t make you sick, and the toxicology studies come up with nothing unusual. But it is awfully inconvenient and annoying — especially this time of year when there’s such an abundance of fresh harvest produce on the market waiting to be enjoyed.

From what I’ve read, you will not experience this problem if you buy the more expensive pine nuts from European sources.

More information:

Editorial postscript: this could serve as a wake-up call to those who are always on the lookout for the best price when it comes to food. The reality is that our markets are full of ridiculously cheap food (according to some sources, food in the western hemisphere is cheaper now than it has ever been). But you need to question why that food is so cheap. The answer is often that, like a lot of dollar store goods, the production has been outsourced to China and other places where labour is so cheap it’s practically free. But those places have much lower quality and safety standards, so buyer beware (or, as caveat emptor is more properly translated: the buyer should make him/herself aware).

13 thoughts on “Pine Nut Warning

  1. I’m not surprised. It’s increasingly difficult to find garlic NOT from China and that garlic is completely tasteless and horrid.

  2. I’ve actually been meaning to write about the garlic issue for some time. Recently there’s been some pretty tasty garlic from Argentina available, but you pretty much have to go to the Jean-Talon or Atwater market to find it (or a good green grocer).

    Of course there’s also the good ol’ Quebec garlic, which is awesome, but seems expensive. It’s not so bad, really, but it just seems it. I bought a cluster of it at the Jean-Talon market two weeks ago. About a dozen small bulbs for something like $12, which seems like so much at the time, but it’s only about a dollar a bulb. And it’s fresh and delicious. They say it will stay fresh for a year, but I doubt that. I expect I’ll go through those bulbs in a matter of a few weeks. (Which makes me think I should stock up while it’s available.)

  3. Funny, I was going to b*tch about Chinese garlic before I even read the comments above! Fortunately for me, I grow my own garlic and last year it lasted ten months which was quite amazing, so I only had to buy garlic for two months of the year, and I managed to avoid the Chinese stuff. Mine would probably last a year if I could harvest it on time instead of late!

    I am trying to avoid buying anything made in China these days and it’s not easy! We’re just trying to buy local, which is made easier by the fact that I am surrounded by farms! Local lamb, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, veg, apples, honey, eggs, yogurt… we’re so lucky. We have a small goat fromagerie and dairy just 15 minutes from here over the border in Quebec. I will definitely pass on the cheapo pine nuts, so thanks for the heads up. I rarely eat beef but I know where to get great Belted Galloway meat from a small local producer. And Tamworth pork!

    If I ever get into growing more garlic than I need for myself (since we do have a farm, after all!), I’ll ship some down the road to you for less than a buck a bulb, Blork. :) (Heck, if you’re ever passing by I’ll just give you some. You can take some for Chef Nick, too. And by November I think we’ll have more eggs than we know what to do with!) You’re only an hour away from me.

    And for anyone out there with garden space, garlic is SO easy to grow and SO worth the effort. Just make sure you plant it in the fall like you do tulip bulbs and such. There is no comparison between that crap in the grocery store and fresh homegrown or local garlic! ANd there are many varieties to choose from. I grew four or five different types this year.

  4. I’ve had some of these bad pine nuts. I made some pesto last weekend and didn’t notice anything while eating it but have noticed the long aftertaste. Very indistinct and for me not as bad as several of the sites have mentioned, but very very strange for sure.

    I got them at one of the places on Park Ave between Bernard and St-Viateur, in one of the bulk bins right inside the door.


  5. Natalie, every winter Martine and I say “this is the year we plant a garden” and then we never get around to it. But maybe I’ll shortcut the procrastination by planting some garlic this fall. Thanks for the tip!

    We’ve been making an effort to eat more local and seasonal than we used to as well, particularly with regard to fresh stuff. I don’t have a problem with things like rice and beans being imported from far away, because they’re dried and they take the slow boat. What’s nasty is getting fresh fruit and veg flown in from all over the world. Particularly since much of that fresh stuff still isn’t so fresh by the time it gets here.

    I was in Metro (grocery chain) last week and I saw packages of snow peas and other packages of some other kind of peas. Upon close inspection I saw that they were from China! Peas! In September! Coming all the way from China! It’s ridiculous.

    Michael, you can be sure that any bulk pine nuts are going to be Chinese. Apparently not *all* Chinese pine nuts cause this problem, but it’s becoming more common. Unfortunately the European ones can be pretty pricey. I saw a small tub recently (about 3/4 of a cup, max) and it was about $7. But put it this way, for the price of a single pint of Guinness, you can use pine nuts that won’t ruin your appetite for the next couple of days or weeks.

  6. I’ll pay extra to get the better quality food-stuff (and I always do) but these Chinese foods are invading the market and they are horrible. Their soil is not our soil.

  7. I had the pine nut problem a couple of years ago, I had no idea what was causing the bitter taste in my mouth until a bit of googling revealed the problem with pine nuts, which has apparently been known about for some time. It was quite unpleasant, and lasted about 2 weeks.

  8. I have a severe garlic problem. I know that it’s hard to find good garlic in Quebec in winter but I just HATE the garlic that comes from, well, wherever. Tiny little cloves — brown spots — who has the time to work through a bulb like that? And I put garlic in EVERYTHING. I would say that it’s my favourite food, period.

    I’ve recently found ail de Provence at Atwater or Jean-Talon but it’s hellish expensive. And sometimes, oh, I wish always, I find those bulbs with the root on, and there are, like, four to a bulb, purple, unblemished and absolutely delectable.

    I once tried to grow garlic here on my balcony, bought books on it, but they were kind of vague and more concentrated on growing it in gardens or farms, not on balconies, so I failed.

    But Knatolee, thanks so much for the offer! I would dearly love to taste your garlic. I’ll pay you for it too, if you’ll let me.

    If you also agree to send me a little chickadee. Which one . . . it’s tough. Hors or D’oeuvres?

  9. I would note – it is not just the “cheap stuff”. I got my “offensive” pine nuts for $12 a pound at Whole Foods Market. The source of origin was listed as China (found on the internet, not in the store).
    The Chinese pine nuts come from a different species of plant.

  10. Thanks for the link, Tommy. Actually, I heard the segment live, as I usually listen to Daybreak in the morning. They also contacted me, but I don’t have direct experience with the nasty nuts, so I wasn’t much use to them.

    One thing wasn’t clear — you mentioned getting pine nuts from Pakistan, and when I was in Fruiterie Mile End a few days ago I saw a big bin of those. But it wasn’t clear if those gave you the problem or not. As far as I know it’s only the Chinese and Korean ones that are causing the problem. Are the Pakistan ones good or not good?

  11. Hi Blork,

    I mentioned that the nut store I usually go to has both Chinese and Pakistani pine nuts but that particular day only the Chinese ones were available. I hope I didn’t mis-speak. As far as I know too it’s the Chinese and Korean nuts.

  12. I recently spoke to a friend of mine about this. She works in the produce trade. She set the record straight for me; the Pine Nuts that come from China are from a white pine species, the Pinus koraiensis (Korean Pine). The problem stems from Chinese producers and distributors, who are shipping less than fresh product that otherwise, should not have reached market even though it is still edible (i.e. oxidation).

    As my friend said, to be fair to the S. Koreans, although these nuts are ‘Korean Pine’ nuts in biological terms, it is the practices of the Chinese distributors that is causing inferior product to reach our store shelves.

    On a side: this varietal of nut is the most widely traded and exported in the world. Native to Korea, and also found in northern China as well as Japan, the quality of these nuts that come from Korea and Japan are of the highest order. In China, they harvest them in bulk however, and they control the larger part of the volume that comes from East Asia. As far as she knew, if we were to get the good stuff from Korea and Japan, it would cost as much or more than the European nuts.

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