Thursday, August 26, 2010

Twenty-Five Most Toxic Plants

So, looking around the internet, I have once again been appalled by the lack of knowledge about particular things. It seems that the web is not only the world's greatest source of information, but also the world's greatest source of misinformation. It's a sad fact. Everything you learn here you have to check and recheck to make sure you didn't make a mistake. Especially if you're in the habit of experimenting with potentially dangerous things. Alas, such is the topic for today's blog post. As the title says, I'm here to talk about the twenty-five most toxic and poisonous plants known to man (Or at least me), from an unadulterated perspective. I've seen on other sites how many plants listed are erroneously labeled as being toxic while in fact, compared to many other plants, they are rather tame. The reason I'm doing a list of twenty-five rather than five or ten is so that some of the commonly listed 'most toxic plants' get put in their respective places according to dose, not frequency of poisoning. So, counting down from twenty-five...

Update: Mouse-over the images to get a brief how-to on identifying these dangerous plants.

25. Holly, Genus Ilex

Holly is well known for being a bright, decorative plant, used especially around the Yuletide season. However, it can be dangerous, as it's bright red berries can be attractive to children. Containing the toxin ilicin, symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, difficulty swallowing, blurry vision, irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and in some cases, death. The consumption of twenty or more berries has the potential to be fatal to an adult.

24. Oleander, Species Nerium oleander

Despite often being labeled as the 'most toxic plant known', oleander is far from it. It is, however, still a dangerous plant, and while not the most toxic, is probably the plant with the most deaths or poisonings attributed to it. Because it is often grown around school gardens and is brightly colored, children have been known to eat a leaf or two, which can be fatal. For an adult, the fatal dose is thought to be between ten and twenty leaves. Symptoms of poisoning include nausea, vomiting, excess salivation, abdominal pain, diarrhea, irregular heartbeat, lack of bloodflow, drowsiness, tremors, seizures, collapse, and possibly coma or death. Contact with the sap can cause a rash with some people, and care should be taken not to use any part of the oleander plant for food-related purposes.

23. Pangium Edule, Species Pangium edule

Known as kepayang or keluak, this plant is best known for its 'football' fruit, which are heavily fermented before consumption. Before fermentation, the fruit and the seeds contain high amounts of hydrogen cyanide, which is extremely toxic. Ingestion of just a small portion of the unprepared fruit and seeds has the potential to cause sickness and death.

22. Death Camas, Species Zigadenus venenosus

Often mistaken by travelers in the wild for onions, the death camas are very poisonous and contain various alkaloids. They can be differentiated from onions by the fact that the bulb has a significantly different smell, though this often goes unnoticed. It is presumable that it would take the consumption of only one bulb to be lethal, though it may be more dangerous than stated.

21. Poison Hemlock, Genus Conium

Perhaps best known as the poison used to kill the Greek philosopher Socrates, poison hemlock is well known as a poison in both history and literature. Containing various alkaloids, primarily coniine, poison hemlock kills by disrupting the workings of the nervous system, resulting in muscular paralysis and eventually respiratory failure. Approximately six to eight leaves can be lethal to an adult.

20. Autumn Crocus, Species Colchicum autumnale

Also called meadow saffron or naked lady, the autumn crocus is often mistaken for ramsons, that is, wild garlic. The bulbs, however, contain a deadly toxin called colchicine, and ingestion can result in sickness and death. Some sources say that it can be differentiated from ramsons by the fragrance emitted by crushing the leaves; ramsons should smell like garlic.

19. Manchineel Tree, Species Hippomane mancinella

Also known as manzanilla de la muerte, or the apple of death, this tree certainly lives up to its name. The fruit, which look like small green apples, can be fatal if eaten. During rainfall, the tree secretes a milky substance which causes blistering of the skin on contact, and the smoke from burning the wood and foliage can irritate skin and cause blindness. While many trees are marked with an X by locals, this is not always the case.

18. Pokeweed, Genus Phytolacca

This plant is known by many alternate names such as poke, pokebush, pokeberry, pokeroot, polk salad, and inkberry, amongst others. All parts of the plant contain the toxins phytolaccatoxin and phytolaccigenin, which are potent toxins to mammals. Though in some parts, the leaves are boiled many times and then eaten, this practice is generally discouraged. Ingestion of ten or more berries or a pokeweed root has the potential to cause sickness in an adult, causing symptoms such as stomach cramping, nausea, persistent diarrhea and vomiting, difficulty breathing, weakness, spasm, increased blood pressure, convulsions, and in extreme cases, death.

17. False Hellebore, Genus Veratrum

Also known as corn lilies, members of the genus veratrum are highly toxic, containing steroidal alkaloids, which can cause cardiac arrest. While the roots and rhizomes are the most toxic part of the plant, ingestion of any part is inadvisable. Symptoms of poisoning include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, numbness, headache, sweating, weakness, decreased blood pressure and heartbeat, and seizures, with a high potential for death.

16. Castor Oil Plant, Species Ricinus communis

Again, the castor oil plant is another plant stated to be the most poisonous in the world, even by the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records. They couldn't be more wrong. However, it is still extremely dangerous, containing the toxin ricin, especially in the beans. Some source state that a single bean contains enough ricin to kill an adult, but a more realistic dose would be between four and eight beans, depending on how well chewed they are. Initial symptoms include a burning sensation in the mouth and throat, abdominal pain, and bloody diarrhea. Several days following, dehydration, a drop in blood pressure, and a decrease in urine are expected, followed by death if left untreated.

15. Upas Tree, Species Antiaris toxicaria

Sometimes called the bark cloth tree, false iroko, or false mvule, the upas tree is best known for being the source of poison in Javanese culture, especially on arrows, darts, and javelins. While the oral dosage for this plant is unknown, it is said that once hit by a coated weapon, a person can take no more than seven steps uphill, eight downhill, or nine across flat land, before collapsing.

14. Poison-Oak, Species Toxicodendron pubescens and Toxicodendron diversilobum

Containing the potent toxin urushiol, poison-oak is best known for the severe itching it causes on contact in most individuals. Then comes swelling, hives, and blistering on the skin. Ingestion of the leaves of the poison oak is not wise, as it could lead to severe inflammation of the mouth and throat, causing an anaphylactic reaction and ultimately ending in asphyxiation.

13. Poison Ivy, Species Toxicodendron radicans

"Leaves of three, let it be.", is a common mnemonic for identifying poison ivy. Also containing urushiol, like poison oak, poison ivy contains a similar concentration of the substance, causing near identical symptoms. Though fifteen to thirty percent of people remain unaffected by urushiol, it chemically binds to the skin and can remain active for several years.

12. Baneberry, Genus Actaea

Also known as bugbane or doll's-eyes, due to the appearance of certain species in this genus, the baneberry is a very toxic plant, hence the name. Consumption of as few as six of the waxy berries can cause severe sickness, resulting in cardiac arrest and death, with the dose depending upon the particular species.

11. Barbados Nut, Species Jatropha curcas

Also known by names such as purging nut and physic nut, the barbados nut is of great danger due to the pleasant flavor of the seeds, which contain both cyanides and a toxin called curcin. These nuts also contain oils that are amongst some of the most powerful purgatives or laxatives used in the medical world, and consumption of as few as five seeds has the potential to cause a very messy death.

10. Yew, Genus Taxus

Though the most toxic species of yew is the european yew, all varieties of yew contain taxanes, with all parts of the tree, except the fruity aril, containing the toxins. The toxins are especially concentrated in the seeds, and the consumption of as few as three seeds can cause severe sickness and death in humans.

9. Sago Cycad, Species Cycas revoluta

More often known as the king sago palm or sago palm, this tropical plant contains high levels of the toxin known as cycasin, with the seeds containing the most. Though cases of poisoning usually occur with animals, human poisonings have been known, and ingestion of only two seeds can result in death. The symptoms of sago cycad poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, seizures, liver failure, and hepatotoxicity, eventually leading to death. Anyone that has ingested any quantity of the plant should immediately be taken to a local poisons center.

8. Belladonna, Species Atropa belladonna

Belladonna, formally known as atropa belladona and commonly known as deadly nightshade, or sometimes sleepy nightshade, amongst other names, is perhaps one of the best known poisonous plants in the world. All parts of the plants are extremely toxic, containing tropane alkaloids. While the root is the most toxic part of the plant, as little as one leaf or ten to twenty berries can result in death. Symptoms of nightshade poisoning include dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, rapid heartbeat, loss of balance, headache, rashes, flushing, dry mouth and throat, slurred speech, constipation, confusion, hallucinations, delirium, and convulsions. The plant is of greatest threat to children due to the attractive and mildly sweet berries.

7. Suicide Tree, Species Cerbera odollam

Known also as the pong-pong or othalanga, the suicide tree is best known for the small kernels it produces, which contain cerberin. Though the seed has a strong flavor, it can be masked with heavy spices, and consumption of a single seed will most often cause cardiac arrhythmia and eventually cause death through heart attack.

6. Strychnine Tree, Species Strychnos nux-vomica

Also known as nux vomica, the strychnine tree is the sole source of the deadly pesticide strychnine, and also contains the toxin brucine. Both the blossoms and the seeds contain very high levels of strychnine, and as little as one can result in death. The symptoms of strychnine poisoning include rapid heartbeat and increased blood pressure amongst others, but these are often masked by the violent convulsions that take place due to poisoning.

5. Monkshood, Genus Aconitum

Known by various names, including aconite, wolfsbane, blue rocket, leopard's bane, women's bane, and Devil's helmet, the aconitum genus is amongst the most toxic known to man. A particularly dangerous aspect of this plant is the fact that the toxins can be absorbed through the skin, with the sap absorbed into the skin from picking eleven leaves being enough to cause sickness. Though the ingestion of as little as a single leaf may be enough to cause death, the exact dosage is unknown. Symptoms of aconite poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sensations of burning, numbness of the face, weakness, low blood pressure, decreased heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, respiratory difficulty, headache, and confusion. All varieties of monkshood should be considered equally deadly and should not be handled without gloves.

4. Jequirity, Species Abrus precatorius

Best known by the names rosary pea and crab's eyes, amongst others, the rosary pea is famous for the seed it grows. However, despite being used in certain jewelery, the bean is also the most toxic part, containing abrin, which although similar to ricin, is approximately seventy-five times as potent. There have been cases in the past where jewelers have accidentally pricked themselves with a needle whilst working with rosary peas, and died from poisoning as a result. The symptoms of abrin poisoning are almost identical to that of ricin poisoning.

3. Poison Sumac, Species Toxicodendron vernix

Related to both poison oak and poison ivy, poison sumac is their deadlier counterpart, containing much higher concentrations of the rash-inducing chemical urushiol. It is considered by some botanists to be the most toxic plant species known, and it is fairly possible that as little as a nibble of the plant can cause an anaphylactic reaction, resulting in swelling of the mouth and throat and ultimately, asphyxiation.

2. Water Hemlock, Genus Cicuta

Sometimes known as cowbane or poison parsnip, water hemlock is especially dangerous due to its resemblance to the cultivated root parsnip. All parts of the plant contain cicutoxin, especially the root, and even a nibble can result in violent convulsions and death. It is well known for being perhaps the most violently lethal plant. After ingestion, death can occur in as little as fifteen minutes.

1. Foxglove, Genus Digitalis

Without a doubt the most toxic plant I know of, foxglove, also known as dead man's bells, witches' gloves, and lady's gloves, contain a toxin known as digoxin, amongst others. Symptoms of digitalis poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, wild hallucinations, delirium, severe headache, tremors, convulsions, irregular heartbeat, and cardiac arrest. All parts of the plant are deadly toxic, with as little as a single nibble being enough to cause death.

Honorable Mentions:
These are plants that struggled to make it onto the list, but either didn't have enough information on them, or simply weren't toxic enough to qualify. Still, be wary of these.
- All varieties of nightshade, including mandrake, jimsonweed, and many others, Family Solanaceae
- Alocasia, Genus Alocasia
- Daffodils, Genus Narcissus
- Dumbcane, Genus Dieffenbachia
- Elephant Ear, Taro, Dasheen, and Eddoe, Genus Colocasia
- Gluta, Genus Gluta
- Golden Chain, Genus Laburnum
- Heavenly Bamboo or Sacred Bamboo, Species Nandina domestica
- Hellebores, Genus Helleborus
- Hyacinth, Genus Hyacinthus
- Hydrangeas, Genus Hydrangea
- Iris, Genus Iris
- Larkspur, Genus Consolida and Delphinium
- Lilies, Genus Lilium
- Moonseed, Genus Menispermum
- Rhododendrons, Genus Rhododendron
- Shrub Verbenas, Genus Lantana
- Snakeroot, Genus Ageratina
- Tulips, Genus Tulipa
- Wisteria, Genus Wisteria

Additionally, if there's any plants that you'd like to know about or are curious about, ask away and I'll try to answer as best I can.

Disclaimer: While I try to bring you the most reliable information that I can, there is no guarantee that the list above is an accurate representation of the most toxic plants in the world, as tests have not been done and many plant species are unidentified and have unknown toxicities. Under no circumstances do I encourage nor endorse the consumption of any of the above plants in a dangerous manner for non-medical purposes. It's also important to remember that while certain plants may not harm certain animals, such as deer, rabbits, birds, or cattle, they can still be deadly to people.

Photographs courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation and a good friend of mine.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Raw Foods And Edibility!

Now, despite what this topic is about, I am not a vegan or vegetarian, or a raw foodie for that matter. I'm just your regular old foodie. I have no objection to eating meats and animal products, ranging from honey to chicken and even stuff that most people wouldn't touch, like offal and bugs. I usually cook my food, though I do sometimes consume it raw, usually in the case of salads or fruit. But, alas, I am simply appalled by the lack of information around on the internet in regards to what foods can be eaten raw! Henceforth, I have decided to create a post on my blog to help you, my friends, determine what foods are best eaten raw, and what to avoid eating raw.

Now, there's a lot of people that advocate the consumption of either cooked or raw foods, claiming that one has better nutrients than the other. Though the nutritional value of cooked and raw foods might differ, I remind you that I am in no way taking sides here - I just eat what tastes good. For starters, I'll split the list into meats, animal products, grains, seeds and nuts, culinary fruit, and culinary vegetables. It's important to remember that not all foods fall into a clear category, however - I'll mark these out. There are, however, far too many types of foods for me to write about within a single post, so I'll be listing mostly foods that are easily available on the market.

But before I begin, I'd like to remind you what I mean here by raw - Generally, the term is used to refer to uncooked foods, that is, foods that have not been exposed to heat enough to change their chemical composition (Generally around 60 to 65 Celsius is the accepted changing point.). However, to be truly raw, a food needs to be unprocessed as well. To avoid confusion, I'll clearly state when a food that is normally toxic or unpalatable raw, can be eaten when salted, pickled, dried, or otherwise still raw but unprocessed. And uh, just so you don't think this post is entirely devoid of photos...

Though generally, eating meats raw is usually avoided, there are some meats that you can eat raw. However, since there's not a lot of variety here, I'll include everything, for your safety.
- Arthropods
If you're so inclined, most insects considered to be edible are also edible raw, shell and all. There is very little information indicating otherwise, though they are usually cooked to improve flavor and texture. I would ask the cook first, except in the case of bush food, which is generally eaten raw since no method of cooking is available.
- Beef
Beef is about the only common meat that is considered safe to eat raw. However, the practice is usually frowned upon in most places. However, some people still do enjoy a blue steak, which is essentially seared, but not cooked. Rare steak, while still pink, should be cooked inside, and is safe to eat except in extreme circumstances. In some countries, however, raw meat is considered a delicacy, and in general, lean, prime mince, often made from ground eye fillets, are the choice meat for consuming raw. Like any meat, however, it has to be properly stored and prepared, lest you feel in the mood for some sickness.
- Crustaceans
That's a type of shellfish, people! Y'know, crabs and lobsters, but not mussels and oysters. At any rate, it essentially includes any shellfish with jointed limbs. While most crustaceans are indeed wholly edible raw, with some tasting rather good, there is still a risk of disease, especially in wild specimens, and some varieties must be cooked to remove toxins. If you plan on eating raw crustaceans, make sure it's prepared properly, preferably at a restaurant with a reputation for good hygiene. In general, though, crustaceans are usually eaten cooked, since when raw, the shell is tough and hard to break.
- Cured Meats
Heavily cured or salted meats, such as jerky, are almost always edible raw. No problem there, it's made for that. However, hams and bacon and salami and other processed meats are a little more ambiguous, since they are, in a way, cooked. However, most of these products are left standing for quite a while, and require further cooking before consumption. While most such meats are indeed edible (And sometimes palatable) raw, I advise strongly against it due to the risk of parasitic diseases and microbial growth.
- Fish
Almost all varieties of fish that we use as food can also be eaten raw. Usually, however, raw fish, known as sashimi in Japan and at sushi stalls, is made from farmed fish known to be free from parasites and disease. In particular, fish that are best served raw include salmon, tuna, snapper, and a few other varieties. Varieties that should not be eaten raw include pufferfish (It's really deadly if not prepared correctly), carp, rockfish, dogfish, shark, and pretty much any fish with any kind of pointy spines. Like most raw meat, however, it's best left to the professionals to prepare. If you choose to eat raw fish that you've caught, you do so at your own risk.
- Lamb
Sometimes considered a midway point between pork and beef, lamb is a less common meat, so information is less available. Though never ever served truly raw, lamb can be served rare, but doing so is considered bad cooking. Presumably, this meat can be eaten raw, like beef and venison, but my advice is against it due to a lack of reliable information.
- Mollusks
Like all seafood, the majority of molluscs, that is, bivalves such as mussels, gastropods such as snails, and cephalopods such as squid, are edible raw. However, in many, toxins may build up in certain parts of the body, and texture may render the majority of the animal unpalatable. If you intend on consuming raw mollusks, I would recommend sticking to well known, farmed species, in particular, oysters, clams, mussels, and a few specific gastropods, depending on where you live. Squid and octopus are far too chewy, and jellyfish usually need to be parboiled to neutralize any stings present. I just tried raw snail the other day. I can't say it was good, but it certainly was interesting.
- Pork
Pork is not generally considered to be edible raw, coming very close indeed to being a white meat. It is important to remember that bacteria such as Salmonella and E. Coli grow better on whiter meats, and so the consumption of raw pork is advised against strongly.
- Poultry
I highly discourage eating this food raw. Chicken and other poultry garners bacteria much faster than other meats, and as a result, even if cooked on the outside, bacteria can still be carried, with the risk of food-borne diseases such as salmonella being high in such cases. Always make sure your poultry is cooked through and through, from the inside to the outside - it should be opaque, not translucent.
- Venison
Much like beef, venison is generally considered safe to eat raw, though still discouraged due to food safety concerns and general cultural taboo.

While most meats can be eaten raw without ill effect, if fresh, the practice is generally advised against due to the risk of disease from not only bacteria and viruses, but from the presence of other infections such as the parasitic flatworms and roundworms. Though most farmed animals will be free of these parasites, cases of infection are not unheard of. If you decide to eat raw meat, you do so at your own risk. Another important thing to remember is never to eat it raw unless it is fresh; frozen meats that have been thawed or meats that have hung around for a while will almost always have bacteria growing on them, and need to be cooked before consumption.

Dairy And Other Animal Products:
Almost all of these are or at least were consumed raw before the advent of modern technology.
- Eggs
In general, eggs are too slimy and gooey to be palatable to most people, but are indeed edible raw. While studies have shown both positive and negative health impacts of eating raw eggs, most people generally stay away from them due to the risk of microbial growth inside the egg. It seems that nowadays, eating raw eggs is for oldies and is an antiquated and obsolete practice. But some still love them.
- Fermented Milk Products
This includes everything from cheese to yoghurt, and though they may be fermented, they are done in controlled conditions. Fermenting, really, is just a different form of pickling. So if the person is good at what their doing, ie. the food comes from a reliable source, go right ahead. If your friend decided to make his own cheese in less-than-favorable conditions, be wary.
- Honey And Other Insect Products
Though honey and other insect-derived products are edible raw, most honey purchased from the store is pasteurized to modify the texture and consistency as well as microbial content. However, since honey is a natural disinfectant, and has such a high sugar content, you needn't worry at all about the risk of disease, unless feeding it to an infant. Unlike milk, unpasteurized honey can be purchased from most grocery stores, and is usually labeled as raw honey. On the other hand, if you're out in the wild and really safety conscious, you might not want to touch that hive full of wild honey, as the honey produced from some flowers can be toxic to humans, and on occasion, toxic to the bees as well.
- Milk And Cream And Butter
Yeah, this stuff is definitely edible raw, as are all the products derived from it. However, these days, most milk products are pasteurized, and thus in a way, cooked, or at least, free of bacteria. There's really no risk from drinking unpasteurized milk, unless the cow is sick - and if you can get your hands on unpasteurized milk nowadays, you'll no doubt know the state of the cow as well.

Grains And Cereals:
Generally speaking, most grains can indeed be eaten raw. However, most grains are cooked before eating, due to problems with palatability, bloating or blockage, and our bodies' ability to digest them and extract nutrients from them. Despite this, people find ways around these problems. A popular method of rendering a raw grain edible without cooking it is by soaking it. While some grains may not need soaking at all, such as oats and the pseudocereal buckwheat, some grains need to be soaked for a only a few hours to be rendered palatable, such as barley, sorghum, and millet. On the far side of the spectrum, are the cereals that may require a few nights of soaking before consumption, such as wheat and it's relatives, and the pseudocereals amaranth and quinoa. Essentially, there are only two grains which are inedible raw - Maize, otherwise known as corn, and rice. While maize is safe to eat in small amounts while raw, it can be extremely unpalatable, and in certain varieties, impossible to chew. Generally, the raw corn passes through our bodies largely unaltered, and because of this, excess consumption may cause blockage in the intestines. Rice, on the other hand, is a very dense grain, and a ridiculously long period of soaking would be required in order to make it palatable, somewhere in the order of months, by which time it would begin fermenting.

Legumes, Seeds, And Nuts:
As a general rule, legumes such as beans and lentils require cooking, whilst seeds and nuts can be eaten raw. However, this is not always the case, as noted below.
- Acorns
Yes, acorns are edible, but only if cooked. These commonly overlooked seeds have been a staple food of many cultures over the years, but when uncooked, possess a strong bitter flavor and can cause gastrointestinal stress. They must be parboiled to remove the toxins before consumption.
- Almonds
While most almonds are indeed edible, there is a particular variety known for it's potential to be toxic when uncooked. This variety, known as the bitter almond, has been banned from being sold raw in some countries. Although not inherently dangerous, these raw bitter almonds, which have a taste akin to almond essence or the inside of a stonefruit pit, contain small amounts of cyanide, which in excess, can cause sickness, and in some cases, death. If in doubt as to which kind of almonds you're eating, I'd recommend sticking to just roasted ones, as the cooking process destroys the toxins.
- Cashews
All cashew nuts that you find in stores have been steamed to some degree, even if they claim to be raw, as it is required to neutralize a portion of a poison present in their shell, and to make it easier for workers to extract the nuts from the shells. If you do find a cashew tree, both the nut and the cashew apple are edible raw, though take care not to eat any part of the shell. To get raw cashews, you'd likely have to go to a cashew farm.
- Chestnuts
The edibility of raw chestnuts is sometimes disputed, as some people experience intestinal distress after eating the raw nuts. If you do decide to go out looking for chestnuts to eat, make sure you don't confuse the plant with the toxic conker, the horse chestnut tree.
- Chickpeas
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a staple food in India and the Middle East. Though usually roasted and ground into a flour, or parboiled to soften them, they are edible raw and even unripe, often used as snacks. They are also an excellent source of protein for the budding vegetarian.
- Green Beans
Green beans are the unripe pods of a number of different legumes. Though usually cooked, most varieties of green beans are edible raw, such as from the yard-long bean, the winged bean, and the common bean. Take care, however, not to eat the green pods of other legumes, such as that of the broad bean. In general, the crisp, stiff green beans are best for eating raw - Stay away from limp and wrinkly ones.
- Lentils
Though usually cooked, lentils can be eaten raw if soaked for a few hours or more. If unsoaked, the consumption of raw lentils can cause severe bloating. Consumption of raw, soaked lentils is very common amongst raw foodies, since it's a good source of protein to replace meat.
- Linseed
Linseed, known in some parts as flaxseed, is indeed edible raw. While not toxic, however, the excess consumption of whole linseed without an adequate supply of water can cause intestinal blockage, requiring medical intervention.
- Mung Beans
Mung beans, unlike most larger beans, are edible raw. Though they do not require soaking like some legumes, people may do it anyway in order to improve or soften the texture.
- Peas
Peas fresh from the pod, mature or baby, are delicious raw. The pod can also be edible raw, but is best when picked young, otherwise it can be stringy and difficult to eat.
- Split Peas
Some people may confuse split peas with either chickpeas or lentils, but they are an entirely different food. They are the dried and split legume of the common pea, so they are edible raw, but some people may recommend soaking to improve texture.
- Water Chestnuts
Like normal chestnuts, water chestnuts can be eaten raw, though according to reports in China, there have been cases of parasites being passed from the aquatic plant, though these occurances are very rare.

Culinary Fruit:
While almost all fruit is edible raw, there are a few exceptions, in most cases due to palatability or textural concerns. Generally speaking, it would be wise to avoid eating fruit seeds, as some are toxic, and in the right dose, can be fatal, as noted below.
- Apples And Pears
Apples and pears are completely edible raw, with the exception of the small seeds at their cores, which is now becoming common knowledge. These seeds contain small amounts of cyanide in them, and excess consumption (In the order of perhaps twenty seeds a day.) can cause sickness, and even death. Best not to eat the core, but it's perfectly fine if you swallow a few by accident, so don't panic.
- Cherries And Other Drupes
As brilliant a fruit as cherries, peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, and other drupes, or stonefruit, are, care should be taken not to eat the pit inside, as they are known to contain cyanide in various forms, similar to the bitter almond.
- Cranberries
Though not toxic, cranberries are often considered much too astringent, sour, and bitter to be eaten raw. If consumed raw, one can add sugar to counteract the bad flavors, though those with weak stomachs may find that raw cranberries do not sit well with them. They are not, however, toxic.
- Elderberries
Though both the flower and the berry of the elderflower plant is edible, care should be taken not to consume any other part of the plant, including the seeds of the berries, as they are toxic and can result in sickness.
- Figs
Most people don't think of figs as fresh fruit, and in fact have never encountered them fresh before, but they are in fact very edible in their raw form. Some people, however, may find the taste unappealing, and certain species of figs are rendered unpalatable by their dryness.
- Gooseberries
Like cranberries, gooseberries can be eaten raw, but are often cooked as most people find their flavor too sour for normal consumption.
- Papaya
Most people might not know this, but not only is the flesh of the papaya, sometimes known as pawpaw, edible, but the seeds are, too. The seeds can be eaten raw or dried, and have a pungent flavor often likened to black pepper.
- Quince
A relative of the apple, the quince is most often used in desserts and preserves, and are notable for being one of the few 'common' fruits that cannot be eaten raw in most cases. There are, however, varieties of quince that are palatable raw, but the majority are too astringent and sour, and must be left to blett before eating raw.
- Rhubarb
Though technically a vegetable, rhubarb is used like a fruit, and the stem is entirely edible while raw, contrary to popular opinion. It is, however, very tart, and so dipping it in sugar may be required. The leaves of the rhubarb plant, on the other hand, contain very high amounts of oxalic acid, and are toxic even after cooking.
- Rosehips
Though most varieties of rosehips used in cuisine are edible raw, many find them unpalatable, and in certain kinds, the short fibers from the inside of the tiny fruit can cause irritation of the mouth and throat - It's one of the ingredients in old-fashioned itching powder. They are not, however, toxic.
- Tamarillo
Similar in acidity to rhubarb, the tamarillo or tree tomato is a sub-tropical fruit known for it's tart flavor. Though often cooked, it is popular raw in some places, though most people refrain from eating the skin due to it's excessive sourness. Like rhubarb, it is also often served with sugar to sweeten it.
- Wolfberries
Also known as the goji berry, wolfberries are traditionally dried and then cooked in soups in Asian cuisine. They are, however, more recently being used in foods as a source of antioxidants, and are edible raw, like most other fruit.

Culinary Vegetables:
Though usually cooked before serving, there are a great variety of vegetables that are used in salads or otherwise served raw. However, a large majority of people are unsure of which vegetables can be eaten safely whilst raw, and often consume ones that aren't.
- Artichoke
While there are some people that do eat artichoke raw, it's not exactly a recorded practice in history. While it seems to be safe to eat, some people find the texture of even cooked artichoke unsettling.
- Asparagus
Asparagus, especially the young roots, is indeed safe to eat raw, and is used especially in salads as an emerging food in the culinary world. I myself, find it far too tough to eat raw, but that might just be me.
- Aubergine
Commonly known as eggplant, aubergine is a relative of the potato and tomato. While some particular varieties are edible raw, the seeds contained within them are rather bitter, and other varieties contain toxins that need to be purged through cooking. It's best to cook your aubergines.
- Bamboo Shoots
Bamboo shoots aren't edible raw. In fact, they're so acrid that they need to be sliced very thinly and boiled multiple times. In particular, some varieties of bamboo shoots contain cyanide in them, and can be toxic in large amounts. Cooking destroys the toxins present.
- Beets
Beets, both the root and the leaves, are popular edible foods when cooked. While the beetroot is entirely safe to eat raw, the leaves require a little more caution, since, like spinach, they contain a high level of oxalic acid, which is destroyed during cooking. Generally, only the young leaves are eaten raw in salads.
- Bell Pepper
Bell peppers, also known as capsicum, are botanically a fruit, as many culinary vegetables are. Both the flesh and the seeds inside are edible raw, though the latter is usually thrown out due to it's unpleasant bitter flavor. Sweetness of bell peppers varies usually depending on color.
- Bitter Melons
Bitter melon, while in most cuisine is cooked, can be eaten raw, and is a component in some particular salads. However, either cooked, or raw, it still lives up to its name.
- Bok Choy
Though generally considered to be edible when raw, bok choy, a variety of Chinese cabbage, is usually cooked to soften it. There has, however, been a case of death where a Chinese woman died from overconsumption of bok choy - that is, between two and three pounds of the stuff daily. While raw bok choy does contain small amounts of toxins that can increase the chances of developing cancer or cause illness in larger doses, consuming that much of the same kind of food every day could be dangerous for health, regardless of what it is.
- Broccoli
Broccoli is a popular vegetable to be eaten raw, especially in modern times as snacks to go along with refreshments, served with hummus or other various dips. If you're growing your own broccoli, however, it is important to remember to eat it before the buds begin flowering.
- Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts, like most leafy vegetables, can be eaten raw, and are prepared by cutting off the stem and any remainders as well as removing any loose leaves on the sprout. They are, however, usually eaten cooked, but either way, are known for their distinct, slightly bitter flavor.
- Cabbage
While edible raw, to an extent, cabbage is most often cooked before consumption. Alternately, it can be pickled in various forms, served as sauerkraut, kimchi, and so on.
- Carrots
Yeah, some of the things I put here are obviously edible raw. But for those of you concerned about disease, you might want to scrub your carrots first, but don't peel them! The skin is where all the vitamins are. Some carrots, though, may be bitter with the skin still on (Like purple carrots...).
- Cauliflower
While like broccoli, cauliflower is also edible raw, but most people cook it beforehand. It can also be pickled, but I've honestly never seen that around.
- Celeriac
This uncommon root vegetable is highly underrated. Grown from a variant of the celery plant, celeriac is a glorious food, in my opinion, and unlike the common potato is edible in its raw form. Enjoy. If you can find it, that is.
- Celery
While celery is indeed edible raw, for some reason a lot of people give me this weird look when I say I eat the stuff raw. I guess most people put it in soups. When raw, it's good with a hummus dip, or spread with a little cheese spread or peanut butter (But not both!).
- Chard
Also known as Swiss chard or silverbeet, chard is a vegetable not unlike spinach and beet leaves. Like the two, it is high in oxalic acid, and generally the leaves should be cooked before consumption. However, leaves of a young plant may be consumed, again like spinach and beet.
- Chicory
Chicory, not to be confused with endives, even though sometimes people call it that, is a leafy vegetable that is more often than not, consumed raw. The Belgians, on the other hand, grow their chicory in the dark and pickled the resulting white leaves, often cooking them before consumption. The root, on the other hand, is far too bitter to be consumed raw.
- Cress
Cress, also known as garden cress and pepper grass, is a common salad ingredient. Need I say more?
- Cucumber
While all cucumbers can be eaten raw, it's important to remember that certain varieties have nigh inedible skin that's far too tough to chew, and being a summer squash, the cucumber is actually harvested before it's fully ripe. Cucumber slices with a dapple of salt make a great snack.
- Dandelion
Ah, another highly underrated vegetable. While all parts of a dandelion plant are raw, I would highly advise against rummaging through your garden for the stuff. There are many other plants that people mix up with dandelions, such as catsears and hawksbeards, amongst other false dandelions. Most of these are not edible.
- Endives
The curly leaved endive is known for it's particularly bitter leaves, and though most people would probably prefer it cooked, it can be eaten in it's raw form without concern.
- Fennel
While most people think of fennel as an herb, the florence bulb at the base of the plant is often used as a vegetable, with a mild anise-like flavor. It can be eaten raw.
- Fiddleheads
Otherwise known as crosiers, fiddleheads are baby fern fronds used as a vegetable. While certain species are edible raw, the practice is advised against since the exact source isn't often known, as these are more of a bush food than anything. You're better off cooking these.
- Garlic
For those brave and foolish enough to try this pungent spice raw, go right ahead. It's great for the sinuses and immune system. But be warned... It's potent! Not to mention the resultant breath.
- Kale
As a close relative of cabbage, kale is often used as a salad ingredient amongst other strongly flavored foods. It's perfectly safe to eat raw.
- Leeks
Like other onion-related plants, leeks can be served either cooked or raw, and tend to be more potent in flavor when uncooked. They make a great addition to salads.
- Lettuce
All varieties of lettuce are edible raw, and almost always served raw. Only my dad would cook lettuce. For some reason, he treats it like cabbage.
- Lotus
Ah, the delicate lotus. If you can even get your hands on some fresh lotus, you'll be pleased to know that the entire plant is edible raw. However, younger plants are probably better, as they're less bitter.
- Mushrooms
While there are a few particular species of mushrooms that are edible raw, say, the white button mushroom, you'd probably want to avoid doing so. Not only is there a risk of parasites, but even with cultivated specimens, the mushrooms are grown on a mixture of dead grass and horse manure. So edible, yeah. Preferable, no.
- Mustard Greens
Mustard greens are known for their peppery flavor, and are consumed raw in most cases. They're perfectly safe.
- Napa Cabbage
Napa cabbage, otherwise known as Chinese cabbage or celery cabbage, is used in a very similar manner to normal cabbage. Like its close relative, it too can be eaten raw, and is usually wrapped around pork or oysters, dipped in fermented soya bean paste (Gochujang).
- Nettles
Properly known as stinging nettle, which is the most common variety used for food, the leaves of the nettle are edible raw. However, due to the presence of the stinging needles, this can result in extensive rashes inside the mouth. I highly recommend steaming them or cooking them some other way before consumption. You have been warned.
- Nori
Known to most people as just 'seaweed', aonori or laver is actually a specific species. It's the kind you use to make sushi with. Though it it edible raw, it would be hard to get in this form.
- Ocas
Known also as New Zealand yams, ocas are short little red or yellow tubers, and are fully edible raw, with a particularly sweet flavor. If you do decide to cook them, however, just know that they cook very fast. My mother made the mistake of cooking them for too long, and they dissolved...
- Olives
Olives have a disputable edibility when raw. They are extremely bitter whilst raw, and as such, are usually pickled in brine. If you can stomach the flavor, go right ahead.
- Okras
Sometimes known as gumbo, okras are small green seed pods used like a vegetable. Though they are usually cooked, they can be eaten raw, and the leaves of the parent plant are usually used in salads.
- Onions
Onions are perhaps some of the most versatile vegetables around, being used for flavoring, on their own, or as an addition to a meal to bring some balance. While edible raw, some onions can be very pungent and it's recommended that you use only certain varieties for raw consumption. The red onion and Spanish onion are good for such use, as they are sweeter and less... Aromatic.
- Parsnip
Looking like white carrots to some people, parsnips are most often cooked before consumption. Though edible raw, parsnips may be unpalatable, and just like carrots, it may be preferable to scrub them before consumption.
- Plantain
Often confused with bananas, plantains are those starchy ones you use for cooking. While they aren't toxic raw, they can be highly unpalatable, being sour, starchy, or tough, depending upon the ripeness and variety. Some plantain however can be palatable raw. In general, however, it's best to cook them.
- Potatoes
I find it appalling how many people on the internet claim to be eating raw potato. Don't. Just don't. It's pretty bad for you. Potatoes, even the white, clean parts, contain solanine, which is destroyed during cooking. While the toxic dose is high for adults (Approximately half a kilogram, depending on your weight and health), potatoes should always be cooked before consumption. Any green parts or eyes on a potato are inedible and can cause sickness, regardless of whether they are cooked or not.
- Pumpkin
Though consumption of raw pumpkin is almost unheard of, it is actually completely safe, and both the skin and seeds of pumpkins are edible raw. Despite this, some raw pumpkin may still be unpalatable due to textural concerns, with some pumpkin being very tough when raw. It's also not recommended that you eat the pulp near the seeds, as it has a rather bad flavor to it.
- Rocket
Rocket is a common salad green, and is particularly well known for it's sweet, nutty flavor. It's edible raw, without a doubt.
- Shallots
Shallots, another relative of the onion, are also edible raw. Like onions and garlic, however, shallots can be very potent, and often result in bad smelling breath. Consume raw at risk of social stigma.
- Sorrel
Perhaps less well known that rocket or mustard greens, sorrel is nevertheless a common salad green, and can be eaten raw.
- Spinach
Spinach is particularly well known for it's bitterness, which may make it unpalatable raw. This is for good reasons, as spinach is high in oxalic acid, which is toxic. The spinach found in salads is baby spinach, when the leaves are younger and less bitter, and is safe to eat raw.
- Squash
Squash, like pumpkin, is safe to eat raw, though its texture can perhaps be even more unpalatable, and most, if not all people, will cook it before eating it.
- Sweet Potatoes
Not to be confused with yams, sweet potatoes are also a cousin of the potato. While they don't contain solanine when raw, there's evidence suggesting that our body has difficulty digesting sweet potatoes when raw. If you do decide to eat them raw, I'd recommend to limit your intake.
- Taro
Taro, also known as dasheen, amongst other names, is a dark purple tuber related to the potato. It is, however, most definitely not safe to eat raw. Raw taro contains a chemical similar to that found in poison ivy, which causes rashes, and must be handled with gloves and be thoroughly cooked before consumption. Failure to do so could result in swelling of the tongue, mouth, and throat.
- Tomatoes
Tomatoes are edible raw, unless green. Green tomatoes tend to contain small amounts of solanine, like raw potatoes, and should be cooked before consumption. Patchy green and red tomatoes should be fine, however.
- Turnip
Turnips, also known as swedes in some places, are a large root vegetable known for being a famine food. While the large, mature roots are probably unpalatable raw, baby turnips are often eaten raw and are popular in salads. Go figure.
- Watercress
Watercress is a brilliant vegetable, and though usually used in soups, it can be eaten raw as a leafy green in salads.
- Winter Melons
Being a melon, winter melon is most likely edible raw, though I can find no evidence of it. Chances are, it's particularly strong flavor prevent it from being commonly consumed in such a form.
- Yams
The yam, not to be confused with sweet potatoes or ocas, are a widely varying group of vegetables. While some particular variants of yams can be eaten raw, others need to be dried or cooked before consumption. For safety's sake, I would cook them unless I knew the exact cultivar.
- Zucchini
Like other summer squashes, the zucchini, also known as the courgette, is indeed edible raw, though it has a texture that some may consider unappealing, being somewhat like a cross between a cucumber and an aubergine.

Some foods contains certain toxins when raw, and should not be eaten, or only be eaten in limited quantities. Such toxins include oxalic acid and the related oxalates, solanine, goitrogen, cyanides, glucosinolates, anacardic acid, and lectin.

At any rate, that's all the information I can give you without burning out my brain! If you've got any foods to ask about with regards to edibility, both cooked and raw, ask away and I'll see if I can answer!

Disclaimer: This post is written for general entertainment and not as a strict guideline for the consumption of raw foods. While I endure to bring you the most reliable information that I can, I cannot be faulted for any damage you inflict upon yourself or others by eating unsafe foods.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Stale Food And Play-Doh

Now, for most of you, I know this might sound like a weird association, but quite often, I open a box of food, especially grains and other carbohydrates, and get punched in the face with this really strong Play-Doh scent. Y'know, Rice Krispies gone bad in the box, old but not yet moldy grains, and in particular, an icing-paste my sister once made that even resembled Play-Doh (The smell seems to have come from the glucose syrup.). Oh, and not to mention that box of dry dog treats I have for my dog.

It just seems that it's all too strangely familiar to be true, right? Or am I simply the only one that notices these smells? At any rate, since I finally got curious enough about why every second box of puffed rice I bought smelled like something I used to refrain from putting in my mouth, I decided to do a little research. To my astonishment, however, there's no article about stale foods smelling like Play-Doh. Anywhere! Might just be my imagination.

So let's say my mind hasn't been playing tricks on me for the last couple of decades or so, and it really does smell like Play-Doh? Well, a brief stint through the internet tells me of a process called "retrogradation", which is a fancy way of saying something is getting old. Now, I found some stuff about it relating to stale textures - that is, chewy chips and floppy crackers, all based on how starches bond to water - but nothing about that damn smell. Is it bacteria? Is it mold? Is it Superman?

Of course, these stale foods might not smell exactly the same, but they do cut it pretty close. If you want a sample of the smell I mean, go to your local grocer and buy the cheapest, oldest bag of plain puffed rice cereal you can find. Preferably with a pre-existing hole. Normal rice puffs smell kind of sweet and malty. Stale ones smell kind of musty. And as far as I can tell, this seems to happen to almost every kind of grain I know of (Except pseudocereals like Amaranth and Buckwheat.). Of note, is that stale cooking oil (Termed 'rancid', due to excessive exposure to air and light.) also has a similar smell. Indeed, if you combined those two smells together, it'd smell even more like Play-Doh (It's only ingredients are flour, water, boric acid, salt, oil, and silicone oil.).

While all these stale and rancid foods are usually still edible (Even Play-Doh! I don't recommend it though.), I prefer not to eat them due to the rather annoying odor they hold. Unfortunately, for everyone out there reading this blog (Which is no doubt few in number.), I cannot seem to determine what causes this particular smell. If any of you have any idea at all, leave a comment at the end of my post! I'd seriously like to know what you think.

As a humorous side note, here is a list of the few bizarrely unrelated topics I came across while noseying around for this post:
- Does anyone else love that Play-Doh smell?
- How do you make Play-Doh?
- Is it just me or does Play-Doh taste like salt?
- Why does my belly button smell?
- Play-Doh scented perfume by Demeter Fragrance Library
- What do mice droppings look like? (The answer was brown ricies!)
- Why do my feet smell like Play-Doh?
- How to remove boric acid smell (Which ironically, is about how to use boric acid to remove OTHER smells.)

Honestly, some people. Tch.