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Sep '08

3 Surprising Foods That Can Sometimes Be Poisonous (Plus 2 Tips to Stay Safe)

1. Nutmeg

Four people fell ill, experiencing severe headaches and dizziness after eating an apple cake that was made from a recipe published in the August 2008 issue of the Swedish food magazine, Matmagasinet.

As Matmagasinet’s chief editor Ulla Cocke states, “There was a mistake in a recipe for apple cake. Instead of calling for two pinches of nutmeg it said 20 nutmeg nuts were needed…We publish 1,200 recipes each year, and of course there have been times when they’ve had a bit too much butter or too little flour, but we have never experienced anything like this before.”

The magazine went on to recall all unsold store copies, and sent warning letters to their subscribers about the faulty recipe.

In small amounts, nutmeg is a safe, commonly used ingredient in cooking and baking. However, in large doses, it can cause dizziness, hallucinations, a decrease in body temperature, seizures, and in extreme cases, death.

2. Bitter Almond

According to the folks at Nordic Recipes, nutmeg isn’t the only ingredient that can be toxic in higher doses. Bitter almond, which is also used in small, safe amounts by bakers, contains hydrocyanic acid.

As Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages states

“Hydrocyanic acid is a dangerous poison (about one twentieth of a gram is considered lethal for an adult), but it is also very volatile and susceptible to hydrolysis at higher temperatures. Therefore, significant amounts of hydrocyanic acid are highly unlikely to accumulate in any dish prepared with bitter almonds. On the other side, incorporation of whole raw bitter almonds is fairly dangerous because, in this case, all of its hydrocyanic acid is formed in one’s stomach. Serious poisoning is quite rare with adults, but children may be killed by just a few bitter almonds.”

3. Ackee

FoodbyCountry.Com counsels caution for cooks planning to work with ackee, Jamaica’s national fruit which was introduced to Jamaica by Captain Bligh. If the fruit is forced open before it’s ripe, it gives out a toxic gas poisonous enough to kill.

Additionally, as the Unichef.Com website warns in its Caribbean Foods Glossary

“Ackee is poisonous if eaten before it is fully mature and because of its toxicity, it is subject to import restrictions and may be hard to obtain in some countries. Never open an ackee pod; it will open itself when it ceases to be deadly. Ackee is sold canned in West Indian markets.”

2 Tips to Stay Safe

1. If You’ve Been Diagnosed With a Particular Medical Conditions or Take Prescription Medication, It’s Important to Be Aware That Certain Foods Might Make Your Health Problem Worse or Might Interfere With the Medication You Take

ABC13.Com has a good article about foods to avoid when you have certain health problems and/or take prescribed medication regularly that you won’t want to miss.

For example, eating too many licorice flavored products can cause problems in those who have heart conditions. For those with hypothyroidism, eating certain dairy products or ingesting caffeine too close to the time you take your medication can interfere with its absorption.

In any case, if you have a chronic health condition, it’s crucial that you ask your doctor if there are any specific foods you should avoid.

2. When Working With a New Ingredient, Make Sure You’re Not Cooking Something Similarly Named Which Actually Isn’t Safe For Human Consumption

As fans of Britain’s Healthy & Organic Living Magazine recently found out, sometimes even experienced chefs can accidentally confuse one term with another.

Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson apparently was a recent victim of this when he advised magazine readers to try sprinkling the poisonous weed henbane into salads, according to The Times of London.

“I was thinking of a wild plant with a similar name - fat hen, not henbane.” he said.

Thompson was born in Stratford Upon Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Oddly enough, henbane was the poison used to kill Hamlet’s father in the play of the same name.

(Photo Credit: Ackee by Clarence Johnson)

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