We are all aware of there being certain foods that, if improperly prepared, can be highly dangerous. Perhaps the most well-known of these is the Japanese fugu – or puffer – fish, which contain the lethal neurotoxin tetrodotoxin. Fortunately, for most people such a dish is a fairly unlikely option. However, there are certain foods that, despite them being staple fixtures in the diets of many people around the world, are potentially deadly. For example…
There are actually a number of dangers associated with the consumption of Brazil nuts (beyond nut allergies, of course). The nuts’ shells contain a high amount of aflatoxins, a substance that, while natural, is toxic and can cause liver cancer. However, there is a far more bizarre concern that is associated with Brazil nuts: radiation. Brazil nut trees are typically very large, meaning that their roots reach deep underground. This also results in them soaking up unusually high amounts of radioactive material from the soil, which is transferred to the nuts the tree produces and in turn makes them radioactive. While they contain one thousand times the amount than the next radioactive, you have to eat an awful lot of them – and regularly – to experience any form of negative effects.
Although a relatively small amount of people manage to choke to death on these (or else are killed by choking indirectly, for example losing control of a car while eating an apple at the wheel), apples and cherries also have another, rather more deadly thing in common: cyanide. Apple seeds contain cyanogenic compounds, while cherry stones, if chewed, crushed or otherwise sufficiently damaged, result in hydrogen cyanide. The latter is true of the fruit of all the rose family of plants: apples, cherries, bitter almonds, plum stones, apricot pits and more. While swallowing the occasional one by accident isn’t going to harm you, if you intentionally chew and ingest a large amount of pips from any of these fruits you are at risk of anything from difficulty breathing, coma or even death.
Potato plants themselves are highly poisonous, but fortunately we don’t tend to try and eat their stems and leaves. However, the green you sometimes see in potatoes is evidence of the presence of glycoalkaloid, the same poison found in the plant. Avoiding green potatoes altogether is generally wise (although the odd green chip won’t kill you), and you definitely don’t want to indulge in a cup of potato leaf tea. Glycoalkaloid poisoning tends to start out as weakness followed by a coma and then, potentially, death.
Cashews are actually seeds, not nuts, and in South American countries they are discarded while the surrounding fruit is eaten. While most cashews are safe to consume, you should beware if you ever manage to get hold of raw ones. These contain urushiol, the same chemical found in poison ivy, which can cause similarly adverse reactions. However, getting hold of truly raw cashews is incredibly difficult: even those that are advertised as raw or unroasted have almost always been treated in some way or another in order to make them safe.
You probably already know that it is the chemical capsaicin that makes chilli peppers hot, and that eating one or two certainly won’t kill you. However, in high enough doses it most definitely can. Capsaicin is strong stuff, and is used in pepper spray and even paint stripper. Although, like Brazil nuts, you’d need to eat a significant amount to see any effect, common complications include difficulty breathing, blue skin, convulsions and, eventually, death.
Ella used to eat apple pips quite a lot as a child… oh well! For a safer bet than any of the above options, why not indulging in a little pizza delivery?