Have you heard that old saying ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’ ? Well when it comes to some foods I’m afraid its just not true.They can kill you. Surprisingly, even some of the everyday staples of our diet like the humble potato can cause death if we’re not careful but if your tastes run to more exotic delicacies like the Japanese puffer fish, so highly prized by oriental gourmets, then eating becomes a deadly game of culinary Russian roulette. Here are a few dishes you might think twice before ordering.
Fugu (Puffer fish)
(image via: kodiakak)
Fugu (or puffer fish) is one of the most celebrated and notorious dishes in Japanese cuisine. Because it is so lethally poisonous if prepared incorrectly, chefs have to undergo rigorous training and be officially licensed to prepare it. The final test they undergo before being licensed, incidentally, is having to eat a piece of Fugu that they have prepared, which must focus the mind wonderfully. Even a tiny drop of toxin from the Fugu can leave unfortunate diners paralyzed and dying . It contains lethal amounts of the poison tetrodoxin in the organs, especially the liver and ovaries, and also the skin. The poison horrifyingly paralyzes the muscles while the victim stays fully conscious, and eventually dies from asphyxiation. There is no known antidote. Bon appetit.
Sannakji (raw baby octopus)
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In Korean cuisine, sannakji or sannakji hoe is a raw dish made from a live small octopus that has been cut into small pieces and served immediately, usually lightly seasoned with sesame or sesame oil. The nakji pieces are usually still squirming on the plate as they are eaten. Because the suction cups on the arm pieces are still active when the dish is served, the danger is that pieces will stick to the mouth or throat and make the diner choke. Some people like to feel the pieces wriggling as they swallow but for safety it needs to be chewed very thoroughly.
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The Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica and features in its cuisine. When picked before it is fully ripe, the fruit contains a chemical that limits the body’s ability to release the backup supply of glucose that is stored in the liver. That supply is essential because once the body uses up the sugar immediately available in the bloodstream, an event that usually occurs several hours after eating, it depends on this glucose to keep blood sugar levels normal until the next meal. Without it, blood sugar plunges dangerously. Enough people have died from eating unripened ackee to make it illegal to bring the raw fruit into the U.S although that restriction doesn’t apply to canned and properly processed ackee.
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Contrary to popular belief almonds are seeds rather than nuts. They have a unique taste and have been one of the most popular ingredients in pastry kitchens for centuries. The problem is that they are full of cyanide, a deadly poison. In fact cyanide poison is often said to leave the tell-tale smell of almonds. Heating destroys the poison but untreated bitter almonds are so dangerous that their sale is illegal in some countries. In the USA, for example, only the sale of almonds that have been processed to remove all traces of poison and bacteria is permitted.
Silver Strip Blaasop
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The silver-stripe blaasop fish is considered a delicacy in some ports in the Indian Ocean, but it contains a poisonous substance in its liver, skin and reproductive organs which can cause fatal muscle paralysis and breathing or circulation problems if eaten by humans. Deaths from eating this fish have been reported across the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and Israel, prompting the Hellenic Center for Medical Research to send an urgent notice to port authorities to warn fishermen about the toxic qualities of the fish, saying “This fish is a source of poison for human beings if eaten, with a high risk of fatality.”
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Cherries are a popular and much-loved fruit, used widely in cooking, liqueur production, or eaten raw. They are from the same family as plums, apricots, and peaches and like these other fruits contain highly poisonous compounds in their leaves and seeds. When the seeds of cherries are crushed, chewed, or even slightly injured, they produce prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide). Deaths from eating cherries are rare but its as well to remember not to suck on or chew the pit.
Giant Namibian Bullfrog
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In parts of Africa these giant bullfrogs are apparently a local delicacy. The French, as we all know, love their frogs legs, but they wisely leave the rest of the amphibian alone. The Namibians, on the other hand, eat the whole thing, and therein lies the danger. The poisonous secretions in the skin of the bullfrongs can cause kidney failure and death. Apparently, lining your cooking pot with wood absorbs the poison and also stops your frog sticking to the bottom of the pan, a handy tip to remember if you want to take your chances.
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Usually the only risk we run with eating potatoes is piling on too much weight, but even this ubiquitous vegetable has an even darker side. Potatoes (like tomatoes) contain poison in the stems and leaves and even in the potato itself if it is left to turn green. The green coloring is due to a high concentration of a glycoalkaloid toxin. Potato poisoning is rare, but it does happen from time to time. Death normally comes after a period of weakness and confusion, followed by a coma. The majority of cases of death by potatoes in the last fifty years in the USA have been the result of eating green potatoes or drinking potato leaf tea.
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Mushrooms good, toadstools bad, right ? Unfortunately its not as simple as that. They aren’t different plants and in fact ‘toadstool’ is just a slang word for mushroom. Some are edible but some can be deadly and picking the right ones is not a job for an amateur. Most mushroom poisoning (mycetism) results from people eating wild mushrooms that have been incorrectly identified as safe. The symptoms can range from mild gastro-intestinal disorders to death. It’s not only a bad stomach or an early demise you need to worry about either. Psilocybin mushrooms (magic mushrooms or ‘shrooms’) are a hallucinogenic that can have unpredictable mental and physical effects.
(image via: flickr)
Fast food like burgers and fries, in moderation, isn’t going to do much harm, but as a society we seem to really struggle with the concept of ‘moderation’. The result of a runaway fast-food lifestyle in the west can be seen in the present obesity epidemic and also in rising levels of heart disease and premature death. Despite advances in medical science they say this is the first generation where children are not expected to live longer than their parents and a lot of that simply comes down to diet. It might seem strange to include things like burgers and fries in a list of deadly foods, but in terms of contributing to illness and death the western ‘fast-food’ diet outstrips all of the other more exotically dangerous edibles we’ve looked at here by a long way. Agree or disagree, at least its ‘food for thought’.