Jordan's Page of Useless Babble

Food. We all need it. If you don't, then you're not human, and possibly a dark emmissary of the terrible Machine Empire that will one day extinguish our civilizations as easily as one would snuff out a candle.

For those of you who do eat, food is a bit of a strange thing. What tastes good, probably isn't good for us, and what is good for us, we probably don't want to eat. If we eat too much, we'll die. If we eat too little, we'll die. The only inevitability appears to be the cold embrace of death.

Funnily enough, we eat a lot of strange things. And some of what we eat can kill us, in a very sudden way. I'm talk talking about some kind of "oh boo hoo Johnny was exposed to peanut dust and now he's dead" allergy thing. I'm talking about a "holy shit, he was throwing up his internal organs" kind of way.

So, it's in that spirit that I present to you, the Top 10 Deadliest Foods.

Feel free to write down this list to help you prepare for your next family gathering.

10. Cashews


Did you have a can of mixed nuts lying around this past holiday season? Unless you're a cheap bastard, there were probably some cashews in there somewhere, and you don't have to be a wuss with a tree nut allergy to die from them.

Cashews are the seed of an evergreen tree native to South America, which is now grown mostly in India. The seed grows around a fleshy stalk called the 'cashew apple', which is edible. The cashews that we eat though are contained within a double shell that contains a powerful chemical called anacardic acid. Chemically, it's related to the stuff that makes poison ivy so finger-scratchin' good.

If you happen to ingest any anacardic acid, you'll be in for swelling, itchiness and burning in your mouth and throat, which could cut off your air supply and drop you deader than Air Supply.

Hey, who replaced my soft rock duo with a pair of old geezers?
Hey, who replaced my soft rock duo with a pair of old geezers?

So, why do we eat the part that's surrounded my toxin, and not the sweet, perfectly edible part? It might be because the cashew apple doesn't travel well, but it's probably because we're stubborn, and damn it, we're going to get that cashew if it kills us!

How deadly is it?
Not very. Thankfully people caught on to the whole itchy-throat of death thing and figured out that cleaning and cooking the nuts made them safe. Even the "raw" cashews you can buy in the store have been treated to keep them from killing you. As a result, there hasn't been a cashew poisoning-related death in over a century.

9. Apricots


Apricots are good, like little peaches filled with sunshine, if such a thing were possible. We've had them around forever too, from Ancient Rome, right through their introduction to North America by English settlers. But, each of them holds a dark secret.

Apricot pits, much like cherry pits, peach pits and apple seeds contain cyanide, which is poisonous. How poisonous? Just ask the over 900 members of the Peoples Temple in Jonestown Guyana. Oh that's right, you can't. They're all dead.

Hey, Kool-Aid!
Hey, Kool-Aid!

Cyanide's a really effective poison, which is why it's been used throughout history as the means for both assassinations and suicides and has killed people like Rasputin and Hitler. Hmm...maybe it's not all bad after all.

How deadly is it?
Thankfully, apricot pits don't contain a large amount of cyanide, so you're not likely to die from eating one. Nevertheless, the occasional person does, especially in Turkey, where they eat the damn things as a snack for some reason or another. In the last 50 years, about 9 people have died from apricot pit poisoning. You'd think people would catch on by now, but apperantly not.

8. Almonds


Oh, looks like somebody brought some green bean salad to dinner, and they've sprinkled some slivered almonds on top. Now that looks good! Nothing wrong with almonds right?

Although almonds are tasty and pretty good for you, they too can cause harm. There are actually two varieties of almonds: sweet and bitter. Sweet almonds are fine and dandy, but bitter almonds contain hydrogen cyanide.

There's that 'C'-word again. Hydrogen cyanide is a deadly poison used in gas chamber executions and as a killing agent on whaling harpoons. Strangely enough, we actually make an extract of bitter almonds, and what's more, we use it on ourselves!

And why in the hell would anybody even want to use that stuff? At one time, doctors actually prescribed bitter almond extract as an anesthetic, a sunburn and itch remedy and to control coughing! All that, before they figured out how to get the cyanide out of what they were prescribing in an attempt to remove 'death' from the list of side-effects.

How deadly is it?
Each bitter almond renders about 7-9 mg of hydrogen cyanide, and it takes about 1.5 mg/kg to kill a person, meaning that an average person would need to eat about 50-70 bitter almonds before they died. The only good thing about this is that bitter almonds are...well...bitter. Most people can't stomach eating enough bitter almonds to die from it.

7. Rhubarb


Anybody who lives where rhubarb grows knows three things:

  1. It's pretty tasty
  2. You couldn't stop it from growing if you had a vat of agent orange and a team of men hacking at it with machetes
  3. It's a pretty strong laxitive
Beyond it's ability to taste good and help you poop, rhubarb too can be deadly.

The part of the rhubarb plant you're supposed to eat is the stem. That's the part that's deep red. The leaves however are poisonous, and should be removed before eating or cooking.

We know that rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, which can kill at 375 mg/kg. The ability for the leaves to poison somebody can be increased by cooking them in sodium carbonate, which admittedly, won't likely happen as part of a dinner misadventure. The scary part is, it's believed that the leaves contain another poison, but we don't know what it is yet! It's like a playing Mystery Date with plant-based toxins.

The part of Chad will be played by oxalic acid.
The part of Chad will be played by oxalic acid.

How deadly is it?
It would take about 5 kg of rhubarb leaves to kill a full grown man, which is a lot, even before considering that they're extremely sour. Rhubarb-related poisonings were more common in England during World War II, when the leaves were sometimes eaten as a vegetable, and these sometimes caused deaths. The laxitive qualities of rhubarb are a much more common threat. If you eat too much of it, you might wish you had died.

6. Potatoes


The potato is one of the simplest, most versatile and most nutricious foods. They can be baked, boiled, broiled, roasted, fried, steamed, mashed, julliened, added to just about any meal in the world without looking out of place and given just about every kind of treatment or seasoning that we can think of. Beyond appearing as fries in Happy Meals or powering small electric clocks, potatoes have dark secret.

Potatoes, like tomatoes, tobacco and peppers are part of the nightshade family of plants. Because of their association with plants that can kill you dead, they were considered by Europeans to be poisonous until the Spanish noticed that their new Incan slaves not only ate the things but actually lived.

But the scary thing is that potatoes are poisonous...kinda. When exposed to light, they produce a chemical called solanine, which is used to help kill off pests that might be trying to munch on some spuds. It's a good thing that we don't keep potatoes anywhere near light, like in, let's say a supermarket's produce section.

We're doomed I tells you!  DOOMED!
We're doomed I tells you! DOOMED!

Solanine is poisonous to us frail little humans and can cause everything from an upset stomach to fever, convulsions, delirium, coma and death. It takes only 3-6 mg of solanine per kilogram to kill, or the equivalent of one ounce of bad spuds for every 6-1/4 pounds of body weight.

How deadly is it?
While it's definately deadly, it's thankfully pretty easy to spot a poisonous potato. In the presence of light, potatoes also produce chlorophyll, a chemical that helps plants get energy from light (not to be confused with chloroform, a chemical that helps losers get laid). Chlorophyll turns potatoes green, so if your spud has turned green, it's probably a safe bet that it's no longer safe. In addition, solanine is pretty bitter, which can help you tell if you're on the verge of making a big mistake. Thanks to these helpful signs, common sense grabs a rare victory, as potato poisonings are pretty rare.

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