Though many of us might have considered what we might like to eat for our last meal, we might not think that it could be a meal that kills us. That might be the case if you choose to dine on any of these delicacies, so beware if you’re thinking of picking them off the menu!
Remember the Simpsons episode where Homer tries Fugu? This sashimi made using pufferfish is a legendary, potentially fatal Japanese delicacy. The pufferfish have a highly potent neurotoxin which must be avoided when the dish is being prepared, as just 25mg is enough to kill. The liver of the pufferfish, reputed to be the most flavourful part of the animal, also happens to have the highest concentrations of tetrofotoxin. Regulation of fugu chefs in Japan is strict, with only trained and licensed individuals allowed to offer it for sale, and the Emperor is forbidden to eat it due to the potential risk of fatal poisoning he might receive.
One of the world’s earliest farmed nuts, wild almonds actually contain as much as 6mg of cyanide each. Taking into account the fact that 50-200mg of cyanide will kill the average person, as few as 9 almonds a fatal dose. Worry not though, because the domesticated sweet almonds that you can buy in handy snack-size bags at Christmas are a different variety to the bitter almonds that contain cyanide. Still, be cautious if you’re ever stranded and foraging for food around the Mediterranean.
Specifically, the raw variety. Any oyster bar worth its salt in places like New Orleans will offer raw, fresh-shucked shellfish by the bucket to willing customers, albeit alongside a health warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Bad oysters can harbour all manner of harmful microorganisms, notably the ‘liquid from both ends’ norovirus and Vibrio, which can cause septic shock and fatal septicaemia. Always sniff before you slurp!
This Korean delicacy consists of tentacles freshly removed from live baby octopuses, coated in sesame oil and seeds. The problem with eating this particular food so fresh is that the suckers on the tentacles haven’t completely died, meaning that they can cling to your throat on their way down, potentially choking you to death! The key here is to remember your mother’s advice: chew your food properly!
Most people are aware that the much-loved cashew nut takes a lot of effort to produce because of the size of the fruit and trees that it comes from, but they might not understand the significance of its being roasted before it gets bagged up and sent to the supermarket. Raw cashew nuts (actually seeds) are encased in a shell which contains a toxin related to that found in poison ivy, the eating of which can in some cases be fatal. Roasting the seed removes this toxin from the nut, though breathing in the vaporised droplets of toxin can cause life-threatening irritation to the respiratory system.
Just like almonds, cherry pits contain small amounts of cyanogenic acids, meaning that ingesting them in high enough quantities could kill you. Don’t worry if you accidentally swallow one or two however, as the low amount of cyanide is nothing that your body can’t handle – be wary though if a child or pet has eaten a few and exhibits symptoms like dizziness, headache or vomiting.
This tasty dessert ingredient is a staple if making summer classics like rhubarb crumble, but avoid eating the leaves of this plant as they contain highly toxic oxalates. Rhubarb fans will likely know to only eat the red and white stem, but they should also be careful about storing it in the freezer, as this can cause the toxins in the leaves to sink into the stem.
This common ingredient in African and South American cooking contains – you guessed it – hydrogen cyanide! Again, the key to surviving the preparation stage long enough to eat this tuber is to eat it only after it has been cooked thoroughly. Fresh, raw cassava root contains 20mg of cyanide per kg.
For every tasty field mushroom, truffle or shitake, there’s a galerina, amanita or destroying angel. Anyone who has lived anywhere where mushrooms grow nearby is aware of the potential dangers of picking your own fungus, but yet people still make fatal mistakes due to not properly identifying what they have found. One particular offender is the Death Cap, a common woodland mushroom in Europe and Asia, which looks strikingly similar to the edible paddy straw mushroom but can kill if ingested in high enough quantities.
Related to lychees, this popular Jamaican fruit is consumed by locals and visitors alike as an accompaniment to tasty saltfish. However, the fruit must be allowed to ripen properly, as consumption prior to this causes vomiting, seizures and sometimes death. Look for bright red flesh and peel away from the toxic seeds, boil and season for safe and tasty ackee.