Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hold The Pine Nuts

So a funny thing happened to me the other day.  While munching on blueberries one morning, I experienced, quite suddenly, a bitter, metallic and very pervasive taste throughout my entire mouth. 

Convinced that my blueberries were the culprits despite their wonderfully fresh appearance, I made the decision to toss them and seek out a pallet cleanser that would quickly eliminate this most unpleasant taste.  I theorized that citrus fruit, maybe an orange, would do the trick given their acidity… but that didn’t do a thing to solve the problem. I then figured that crackers might work (they work so perfectly at wine tastings)… but that didn’t solve the problem either. 

With my ‘metal mouth’ still 100% present I decided that the cause of my ailment must be far more sinister and infinitely more serious than I previously suspected.  My logic in thinking so?  A commercial from the 90s that ran through my head… the details were sketchy but I distinctly recall the recounting of a story of a woman tasting burnt toast before seizures… 

Being a person of the new millennium, I decided to do next what most responsible people would do under my circumstances – I googled my symptoms.  I take that back; I first did an exhaustive search for the burnt toast commercial.  For nostalgic reasons, I guess. Here it is for any readers that enjoy tangents, but be warned in advance that the burnt toast lady will be inexplicably emblazoned in your minds forevermore. 

Once off my tangent and with a renewed focus on my potentially fatal affliction, I began to grow nervous … Did I have lyme disease? A tumor?  Had I contracted a rare mouth disease that would cause my teeth to slowly rot from my head?  Whatever the ailment was, I resolved myself to be strong and pondered ways in which I would break my sad news to my family.  As I clicked through my Google search results it wasn’t long before I had my diagnosis – and it was weirder and more comical then I could ever have imagined… I had (gasp) Pine Mouth. Apparently, the pine nuts that were in the Eggplant Involtini I had cooked the night before were to blame.

For those of you out there that haven’t heard of Pine Mouth, you might want to pay attention... It’s a bizarre and little known problem that has only cropped up in recent years.  Here are the details in a nutshell, no pun intended (I’ve never seen pine nut shells before so this unintentional pun did just lead me to another, decidedly uninteresting, google tangent):

-       Over the past two years the FDA has received a number of complaints from consumers about Pine Mouth, a bitter metallic taste associated with pine nuts. The taste begins 12 to 48 hours after consumption and lasts anywhere from a few days to four weeks.
-       The FDA continues to review consumer complaints to identify potential causes of Pine Mouth, but findings to date indicate that the problem stems from pine nuts sourced from China.  Evidently the skyrocketing price of pine nuts has encouraged Chinese sellers to include non-edible and off-grade (i.e. immature, shriveled, oily, brown centered, rancid, spotted) kernels into the mix.

What does all this mean for pizza operators? With the consumer trend toward organic and locally sourced ingredients growing every day, it might be high time for pizzerias to join the movement.  Offering organic and locally sourced ingredients while reducing environmental impact carries benefits for both pizza operators and their customers.  It is no surprise that organic and locally sourced ingredients can often cost more, but serving a healthy, premium quality pizza that customers feel good about eating (i.e. one that is devoid of risks like Pine Mouth), will ultimately have a big impact on the top and bottom lines of pizza operators. 

The key to making such a strategy successful? Charge a little more for your healthy, premium quality pizza, inform customers which ingredients have been sourced locally, find substitutes for ingredients that are too pricy (case-in-point), shop around and, most importantly, hold the pine nuts!

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