Help me with my nuts.
July 10, 2006 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Shelled nuts taste like disinfectant?

Every so often, I'll be eating shelled nuts - often cashews - out of a can or a bag, and out of nowhere there will be the strong flavor of disinfectant. I can best describe it as the flavor you'd get if you took a Band-Aid™ brand adhesive bandage from the 1970s, stuck it in your mouth, and chewed vigorously. It is one of the nastiest things to occur regularly in my life.

I can guess what it is - a fungicide sprayed on the nuts to preserve them? A fungus that likes to grow on nuts? A nut-handler wearing a Band-Aid™?

Has this happened to anyone else, and particularly, does anyone know why? Any recommendation for a way to avoid this would be especially welcome, as it's really vile and disgusting.
posted by ikkyu2 to Food & Drink (20 answers total)
It's never happened to me, but you've just transported me to my childhood with the Band-Aid imagery.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 6:14 PM on July 10, 2006

Maybe you are eating a burnt nut? Every once in a while I'll get a burnt cashew, and it is nasty. While I never associated it with the smell of band-aids, I guess I can see the similarity.
posted by necessitas at 6:29 PM on July 10, 2006

This has happened to me before, with raw almonds from Trader Joe's. For a while, I switched to Blue Diamond's canned raw almonds, and the difference was noticeable - the almonds were much sweeter. Then I went back to the TJ version, and so far, no icky chemical taste.

Are your shelled nuts raw or roasted? I'm inclined to think that roasting alters the effect of any leftover fungicide, although I'm not sure how.
posted by invisible ink at 6:29 PM on July 10, 2006

There are a couple foods that provoke odd reactions for me. If I eat grapes after not having any for a long time -- meaning days, not minutes or hours -- the first couple have no discernible taste and make my entire mouth feel sour. Then, suddenly, everything turns sweet. I also occasionally taste dill pickles incorrectly, if that makes any sense -- they just don't taste the way they're supposed to.

I just chalk it up to not being wired correctly.
posted by danb at 6:38 PM on July 10, 2006

Some nuts have a very nasty coating around meat- Brazil nuts and walnuts are infamous for it, but cashews can have it too. if you get even a little bit of pith, BLEH!
posted by headspace at 7:03 PM on July 10, 2006

Are Band-Aid brand bandages covered in any disinfectant? I only smell the plastic/cloth and the adhesive.

They could be burnt, and in some cases, could be a little rancid. Try different brands.

danb - Since I was a kid, I've found packaged turkey deli meat smells of pumpkin. I can't get anyone to agree with me on that.
posted by evil holiday magic at 7:10 PM on July 10, 2006

I'm leaning towards the burnt nut theory ... I get those once in awhile and they never quite taste the way I would assume something burnt *should* taste, but rather chemically & weird.

As a side note, this topic subject cracked me up. Yes, I'm immature.
posted by tastybrains at 7:15 PM on July 10, 2006

I buy bags of (shelled, raw) almonds and sometimes they taste like...perfume.

I always think that someone with a fistful of perfume on must've stuck their hand in the almond container and rubbed it around really well to coat all the almonds in nasty taste.
posted by birdie birdington at 7:18 PM on July 10, 2006

Best answer: Ikkyu2, the Cashew Tree is a member of the Anacardaciae, which also contains Poison Oak and Poison Ivy. The Merck Index describes Anacardic Acid as a "principal constituent of cashew nut-shell liquid" and a "member of the family of non-isoprenoid long-chain phenols," which includes Urushiol, the main irritant of Poison Oak and Ivy. The Oxford Companion to Food says the tissue between the "two layers of hard shell" is used to burn off warts, among other medicinal things. The same source also seems to imply that the shell is difficult to crack without crushing the contents, possibly contaminating the meat with the corrosive pulp, unless it is first roasted.

I suspect you are tasting a small residue of what sounds like an extraordinarily potent cocktail of toxic compounds meant to discourage us from eating that nut, and I wonder whether people who have become sensitized to Poison Oak in your neck of the woods, say, eat cashews, break out in the characteristic rash, and then can't figure out how they managed to expose themselves without ever leaving the city.
posted by jamjam at 7:54 PM on July 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Further to jamjam's observation . . . peanut dust is unbelievably toxic to some. I work in an office building and I love to eat peanuts. This *never* fails. I open up the planters roasted peanut can; within thirty seconds somebody in an office two or three or four doors down sneezes.

I have never experienced an unpleasant taste from roasted cashews.
posted by bukvich at 8:11 PM on July 10, 2006

I've always assumed that the off tasting nut that I would occasionally get was rancid.
posted by stavrogin at 8:57 PM on July 10, 2006

Response by poster: The nuts in question aren't burnt - I like the taste of burnt nuts, even though it can be a little 'off' - and it's not the extraordinarily bitter but easily recognized taste of the pith/husk.

This is a chemical disinfectant flavor, like Bactine or Merthiolate. Modern Bandaids don't smell this way but the old ones used to. It's like walking into a hospital room that's just been disinfected.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:11 PM on July 10, 2006

Best answer: I confirm your taste impression ikkyu, the bandaid description provoked an immediate memory of encountering it before when eating cashews and possibly.. pistachios? It's a nasty taste and I'm also curious about its origin. I've always assumed it was a fungus that breached the nut.
posted by empyrean at 2:01 AM on July 11, 2006

Never happened to me either; I suspect it's a sensitivity that some people have and some don't. I'll be curious to see if any definitive answers turn up.
posted by languagehat at 7:07 AM on July 11, 2006

I don't really have an answer, except that I think it's something inherent to the chemistry of the cashew. I was once given the fruit of a cashew to eat (sort of the shape/size of a persimmon, with the cashew nut sitting atop in its shell), and it was disgusting, in a band-aidy sort of way. Very juicy, with flesh more like a nectarine or a plum, and with a vague flavor of a bell pepper -- but more like disinfectant, as you say. It had the effect that persimmons and grapes do at times where, despite the juicyness of the fruit, your mouth feels dry.
posted by penchant at 8:59 AM on July 11, 2006

Benzalkonium Chloride, the disinfectant component of Bactine, and the Urishiol family of compounds found in cashew nut-shell liquid, do somewhat resemble each other chemically, the former consisting of a phenyl head connected through a nitrogen atom with an ionically bonded chlorine atom to a saturated straight-chain hydrocarbon tail of varying length, and the latter of a phenol head and a saturated straight-chain hydrocarbon tail of varying length.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that mangoes are also Ancardaciae.
posted by jamjam at 11:48 AM on July 11, 2006

Correction: Urushiol, Anacardaciae.
posted by jamjam at 11:56 AM on July 11, 2006

Is it possible you've come across a rancid nut? I haven't had one in a long time, so I don't remember exactly how they taste, but they do taste absolutely awful. I can't even eat Brazil nuts anymore, I am so scarred.
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:04 PM on July 11, 2006

Response by poster: I've had a rancid Brazil nut, as a child, and I distinctly recall that terrible, terrible flavor that put me off Brazil nuts for years, and which was nothing like the flavor I'm describing.

Empyrean reminds me that I encountered this once eating cracked but unshelled pistachios not too long ago. I'm willing to believe it's an urushioid, but I'd sure like something definitive, say a citation to the journal of nut chemistry.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:38 PM on July 11, 2006

Pistachios are also members of the family Anacardiaceae (please note that this spelling differs from my previous two attempts, but could actually be correct).
posted by jamjam at 12:20 AM on July 14, 2006

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