The PlumbLine

NOTE: Last month’s column was about my weight problem. I’m happy to report that I lost seven and a half pounds in 30 days by cutting out most fats except for olive oil and getting three good workouts at the gym each week. I’ve also been bicycling around the island with Chef Espy from the Hunter House. That’s quite a workout in itself. I have 41 more pounds to go before I hit my target. I’ll keep you posted.


Several weeks ago on Tuesday I’d been to Savannah on business when I stopped for lunch at Jalapenos on Whitmarsh Island. The first course is always chips and salsa and it’s always excellent. But after the first chip a vile, bitter-metallic taste came to both sides of the back of my tongue. The sweet tea washed most of the bad taste away but the second chip brought it right back. I thought the cook must have been having a bad day or maybe the grease they fried the chips in had gone rancid. Then came the entrée which was the chicken and mushrooms in cream sauce that I love. Again, when the chicken hit the back of my mouth, that bitter taste came on so strongly that it overpowered the chicken and I couldn’t finish my meal. Then I knew the cook was not the one with the problem. I’d recently been sick with a head cold that ended up in my chest and took a month to get rid of. Maybe it had something to do with that I thought. Or maybe I was coming down with something else.

I came home and told wife Veronica what had happened then I didn’t think much more about it until supper time when I was reminded again. I was hungry because I didn’t eat my lunch and I was looking forward to the spaghetti with shrimp and marinara I’d made the day before. As soon as I started eating the bad taste was again on the back of my tongue as bitter as bile. Now really concerned I went to my computer and Googled “bitter taste in my mouth.” My research returned several possible causes i.e. acute mercury inhalation, necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis, anchovy poisoning, chemical poisoning, and oral cancer just to name a few. I didn’t think I suffered from any of those conditions so I was still at a loss. Maybe I’d finally succeeded in destroying my liver I thought. Perplexed I went back into the living room where Veronica was talking on the phone with daughter Christy. To Veronica’s surprise Christy had been experiencing the same trouble which for her started that morning at breakfast. Too curious I thought.

Being a part time amateur physician Veronica went to her computer and diagnosed us both with having post nasal drip. “Yea, sure,” I said to her. “Just like the time you diagnosed me with having gout.” She’d been wrong before. But she did discover something that sounded somewhat plausible even though it was far fetched. Lots of people, it seemed, were experiencing the problem a couple of days after eating pine nuts from China. Christy had Sunday dinner with us two days before—and we ate pine nuts with a broccoli dish. Misery loves company and I was relieved to learn I was not alone. But I remained skeptical about the pine nuts. Veronica, however, was convinced when she stumbled onto and learned just how wide spread the malady had become. PNS (pine nut syndrome) she discovered was being experienced by thousands of folks all over the world. For the next seven days I suffered with it. Then on the eighth morning it was gone. I’d spent more than a miserable week with every bite of food tasting like a green persimmon. At last I could enjoy my food again, for a little while anyway.

Pine nuts, also known as pignoli, are edible seeds from the cones of certain pine trees. They are ivory colored with a sweet buttery flavor and best known for their use in pesto. Since Mediterranean cuisine has become more prevalent here in the states pine nuts are being consumed more and more. We’ve been using them for years and never had a problem. And being ever skeptical about Veronica’s medical skills I was still not convinced my trouble was caused by pine nuts. So, fool that I am, I bought another brand of pine nuts and popped a couple of hands full into my mouth. Sure enough, two days later, it was back with a vengeance. This time it lasted nine days before it finally dissipated. And that time will be the last time.

Veronica, as she is wont to do, went on a crusade to get the word out about PNS. She contacted the FDA several times and now we are told they are conducting a Class I investigation. From now own if a recipe calls for pine nuts we’ll be using almonds instead. They’re a lot cheaper too. But if you’re a skeptic with an adventurous spirit, and money is not an issue, you can buy a pound of pine nuts at Fresh Market for $26.99 plus tax.


Billy Doniel is a published author and a gourmet cook. He and wife Veronica live on Tybee year round. You may contact Billy at

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