To the daredevils, the reckless ones, the high-rollers, those you’ll find at the tables taking the biggest risks on their money without a care in the world: Would you risk taking a gamble on your food? Sure, you might find it easy betting real money on a slot or a game of poker – they won’t have direct physical consequences. But food? Something you ingest, digest and extract nutrients from? That takes slightly more guts. Pun not intended.
We have gathered together some of the most dangerous foods on the planet to create an extensive if questionable menu! Read on to explore the deadliest foods that even the most adventurous diners might be well-advised to leave on the side of their plate…
It is no wonder that Japanese are known to be high roller gamblers; they like to gamble with their food too! A preferred dish in Japan is right here, at the top of our list. We’re talking about Fugu or pufferfish a succulent fish said to make the best sushi in the world. Unfortunately, it is also one thousand times more lethal than cyanide. The problem is the chemical tetrodotoxin that lurks in the internal organs of the Fugu. Just one fish is enough to kill 30 adults.
Unsurprisingly, chefs in Japan must take rigorous tests to become qualified in Fugu preparation before they are allowed to take their fish knife near diners’ food. The fish must be cut and prepared in such a way as to fully remove every last trace of the poisonous parts, as even a slither of the meat could be lethal. The liver is the deadliest.
Most accidents happen at home when anglers are keen to prepare their own catch. Once poisoned, a victim’s muscles become paralysed and they are unable to breathe. There is no antidote and the only hope is to support the patient’s respiratory and circulation systems, while their body metabolises and expels the toxins. In 2015, five men were poisoned after asking specifically for the liver. Dicing with death, the men were following the aficionado’s quest to eat just enough to get a tingling on the lips!
In Japanese restaurants, Fugu is normally served raw, boiled or fried and accompanied by soy sauce. The fish is usually sliced into paper-thin slivers and displayed in a fan shape around a bowl. It all sounds like part and parcel of the oriental charm and mystery and it does sound delicious – but would you take the risk and dare?
Second in our list of risky dinners is bullfrog. The African bullfrog is a delicacy in Namibia and in contrast with French diners, who are famed for eating only the legs, the foodies of Namibia enjoy eating the whole body. Although known in Africa for its delicious flavour, the skin and internal organs of the giant bullfrog contain deadly toxins that will cause a burning sensation in the urethra followed by kidney failure. The young frogs that have not yet begun to croak are the most toxic. To avoid the poison, people in Namibia line their cooking pots with dry wood to neutralise the poison.
We know it could get difficult to gamble online in China – and perhaps this is the reason why they like to place their bets on food as well.
Chinese kitchen favourite is the blood clam. This unsavoury name of this sea creature comes from the red liquid found inside its soft tissues. Harvested in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico, blood clams live in low-oxygen environments so easily they ingest bacteria and viruses from their environment. This creature can contain lots of nasty surprises, causing a range of diseases such as hepatitis A and E, typhoid and dysentery. Although a true delicacy in China, the blood clams require expert preparation to ensure a safe meal. Unfortunately, the fashion in Shanghai is to quick-boil them, which means they are often undercooked and bacteria is still present in the flesh, ready to penetrate the stomachs and blood streams of unsuspecting diners. Approximately 15% of people who eat blood clams become infected. In fact, over 300,000 people were infected from eating blood clams in 1988 and 31 people died.
Another deadly dinner option is hakari, which is a delicacy of Greenland and Iceland. Hakari is fermented shark meat and is certainly an acquired taste. The shark is highly poisonous when fresh due to its high levels of urea and trimethylamine oxide. With no urinary tract or kidneys, the skin absorbs the toxins, which is why it must be fermented before eating.
Traditionally, hakari is prepared by beheading a sleeper shark, which is species from the waters of Greenland. The shark is gutted and covered with sand before being placed in a pit with stones lying on top. The shark ferments in this way for up to 12 weeks before being hung up to dry in strips for up to 6 months. Modern preparation methods involve the shark meat being pressed into plastic containers. Those brave enough to try it say hakari tastes of incredibly strong cheese with a slight fishy flavour.
For dessert, you might be tempted to try pangium edule fruit, sometimes known as the ‘football fruit’ due to its size and shape. This is a delicacy native to the mangrove swamps of Southeast Asia. Similarly, to the hakari, the fruit from the pangium edule tree must be fermented to make it safe for consumption. The fruit and seeds from the tree are poisonous as they contain hydrogen cyanide so they need to be prepared by experts to remove all traces of toxin.
To prepare the seeds, they must be boiled then buried in the ground covered by banana leaves and soil for 40 days. The seeds will turn from white to black and are thought to be safe to eat after this fermentation process as the cyanide has been drawn out and can be washed away. The flavoursome seeds are often added to soups and stews in Southeast Asian cuisine.
If you think simply avoiding Eastern dishes would keep you safe, think again! There are deadly toxins lurking in the most unlikely of foods. Raw cashew nuts and are a staple in many people’s diet but these tasty nuts can actually kill you if they are eaten raw. This is because they contain the chemical urushiol, which is also found in poison ivy.
When growing in the wild, this kidney-shaped nut grows within a seed which has a shell containing anacardic acid, which is chemically related to urushiol and is a powerful allergen. It often damages the hands of the cashew pickers. The cashews you buy in regular shops have been steamed to remove this deadly chemical. You can also roast the cashews to remove the poison, however this must be done outdoors because smoke from the nuts contains urushiol droplets, which irritate the lungs and high doses can be fatal.
It is clear that in the world of culinary delights, there are many dangerous foods lurking on the menu. It always pays to do your research when travelling and tasting new flavours – and it seems you even need to be vigilant in the supermarket and at home! Remember, this is not a gamble over a free spin where you can only win. This is your life, so better think twice about that “delicacy” you’ve ordered and which you’ve read so many warnings about. From Fugu liver, Hakari toxins and maggot-ridden Casu Marzu to raw cashews, elderberries and run-of-the-mill rhubarb – is no dinner plate safe?