Eating is not always a risk-free activity. However much we might wish we could relax at the dinner table, there are some well-known ingredients that, if not taken seriously, can pose a threat. Since we keep insisting on defying nature and continuing to eat things that are decidedly inedible, it always pays to be prepared. While everyone knows about the danger of famously foolhardy dishes such as poisonous puffer fish, some ingredients are far more insidious. For the more cautious foodie, here’s a guide to some of the most dangerous ingredients that you may not know are hazardous.
Delicious in wine or as a jam, elderberries are a British favourite when in season. As a result, picking and harvesting wild elderberries for use in home cooking is still a common pastime. However, the seemingly innocent little fruit has a dark side. If not eaten when fully ripe, elderberries can cause seizures or chronic diarrhoea. Cooking with the twigs and leaves is even more disastrous, as these contain cyanide. Yummy.
Eaten across Central and South America, cassava is a key component in many traditional dishes. However, unless the plant is boiled, fried, steamed or mashed, eating it can be disastrous. Cassava contains high levels of linamarin, which turns into cyanide if eaten raw. Tragedy befell the Philippines in 2005 when 27 school children died after eating cassava as an after-school snack - a reminder to take serious precautions when cooking the knobbly root.
You’ll struggle to find a nut fan who doesn’t love a cashew. Whether honey roasted, lightly salted or just served plain, for the nuttily inclined they are undoubtedly delicious. Despite their popularity and inescapable presence on supermarket shelves, they are more dangerous than you might imagine. All cashews must be steamed before they can be eaten, as when raw they contain urishol - an organic allergen that can be lethal in high doses.
Originally from West Africa, the national fruit of Jamaica is now a Caribbean institution. If improperly prepared, however, ackee can be deadly. The fruit can cause what has been dubbed Jamaican vomiting sickness, which can cause, in addition to the symptom for which it is named, comas or even death. The only edible portion of the fruit is the yellow flesh - the black seeds are highly toxic. To be consumed with caution.
They may be delicious, but eating shellfish is always something of a gamble. As filter feeders, where they are harvested makes a huge difference to the risk levels: if the water in which they lived was polluted, chances are that they are too. For this reason, shellfish remains the ultimate foodie Russian Roulette. The most dangerous of all, however, have to be Chinese blood clams, which have been recorded as being infected with Hepatitis A and E, typhoid and dysentery.
While avoiding some well-known hazardous foods may be a relatively straightforward task, it pays to be aware of those that can lull you into a false sense of security. If you care more about your wellbeing than indulging in a potentially deadly snack, take heed. While none of these foods are guaranteed to do you harm, it’s worth being aware of what you may be getting yourself into.