Fugu, or pufferfish, is a widely-appreciated delicacy, but it’s also filled with a deadly neurotoxin. Preparing fugu, therefore, is a delicate proposition. You can actually eat the meat raw, as long as you stay away from the organs, particularly the liver. Unfortunately, the liver is said to be the tastiest part, and five men were hospitalized in Japan in 2015 after specifically asking for the banned organ.
The ackee belongs to the same family of fruits as the lychee, that white grape-looking thing in Chinese cuisine. Unlike the lychee, the unripe fruit is incredibly poisonous. If eaten before it opens, exposing the seeds, ackee results in “Jamaican vomiting sickness.” That’s right—this fruit has its own, special type of vomiting. Of course, vomiting isn't the full extent of it. In extreme cases, you may also exhibit symptoms such as seizure, coma, and death.
(image via Jerome Walker, CC)
Cassava, also known as yucca, is the root that’s used to make tapioca. You’ve seen it in pudding or in bubble tea. There are parts of the world where it’s a staple carbohydrate along with rice and maize. Eating raw or poorly processed cassava, however, can give a person cyanide poisoning, leading to goiter, permanent paralysis, and in extreme cases, death.
In short, this is a shark. Icelandic food is aptly described as “aromatic,” and even “adventurous,” but not often deadly. However, this particular shark has to be fermented by burying it and then hanging it up to dry for months. This is because the shark has no kidneys or urinary tract and secrets its poisonous wastes directly through its skin. The fermentation process renders it safe to eat, but it’s still pretty pungent. And if it’s not left to properly ferment, you’re eating loads of urea and all kinds of other fun stuff.
Rhubarb is great! Well, rhubarb stalks are great, as anyone who’s ever had a good rhubarb pie can attest. The leaves—not so much. They contain oxalic acid which is corrosive and can also wreck your kidneys. This was particularly problematic in World War I when soldiers were mistakenly informed that it was a source of food. The good news is that if oxalic acid poisoning is going to kill you, it usually does so pretty quickly.
(image via Dieter Weber, CC)
Casu marzu is from Sardinia, where its legal status is questionable as it blatantly fails—no, flaunts—EU health regulations. Made from sheep’s milk, the cheese is fermented by allowing cheese flies to lay eggs into the rind-free cheese. As the eggs hatch, the maggots eat their way to freedom, breaking down the cheese fats. At best, the aftertaste stays with you for hours. At worst, you wind up with enteric myiasis—cheese fly larvae burrow into your intestinal lining. They usually wind up leaving on their own, but they make their presence known in the meantime.
Most people know of the African bullfrog as a pet, but in Namibia and a few other places, the frog is eaten. However, juvenile males contain a poison called oshiketakata which can cause kidney failure. Wait until the frogs are mature and have mated if you want to give them a taste.
(image via Steven G. Johnson, CC)
That’s right. We’ve covered raw octopus and fermented shark, and now we’re looking at regular old cashews. Most people don’t know that the cashews they buy at the store have been steamed to remove urushiol, the same allergen that makes poison ivy and poison oak irritate your skin. People who process raw cashews long-term get skin rashes frequently, and the allergic reaction tends to get worse over time. For people who are sensitive to poison ivy, eating raw cashews can be fatal.
(image via Abhishek Jacob, CC)
Elderberries might not be the most famous North American berry, but they still get used frequently for everything from jams and pies to tea and wine—especially in Canada. And while elderberries are perfectly safe when prepared correctly, things can get really painful (and potentially dangerous) if they're not.
Elderberries actually contain a compound that produces cyanide, but not typically in lethal quantities. However, if the elderberries used are properly ripened, eating them can still cause severe intestinal distress. At more toxic levels, they can actually lead to comas or seizures as well.
Red Kidney Beans
You can find red kidney beans in basically every grocery store in the United States—can they really be all that dangerous? Thankfully, most of the time they're perfectly safe (and nutritious) to eat. However, if prepared improperly they can lead to intestinal problems that can range from painful to downright dangerous.
A chemical known as phytohaemagglutinin is present in kidney beans which prevents the proper absorption of nutrients and can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea and vomiting to headaches. When preparing red kidney beans, it's important to cook them for at least ten minutes at boiling to ensure that this chemical won't cause you any problems.
You'd think with a name like "blood clams" people would stay away, but these mollusks are sometimes eaten in China and other regions of Asia. Like a lot of foods on this list, these blood clams are safe to eat, assuming that they have been processed and prepared properly. If not, they can be disgusting...and deadly.
Because they live in low-oxygen environments, the main source of nutrition for these blood clams are bacteria and viruses that thrive in these sorts of areas. They're chowing down on everything from typhoid to hepatitis, and, if not prepared properly, they can pass these dangerous diseases onto the humans who eat them.
The popularity of starfruit has been on the rise in the western world for several years, and they have been a popular food source in other areas for much longer. Despite their ubiquitousness and beautiful appearance, this is one fruit that can prove deadly to some people with specific conditions.
Starfruit contains several compounds that are difficult for people with kidney problems to process. This issue can lead to symptoms that are innocuous as hiccups to as serious as death. However, starfruit doesn't pose a significant risk to anyone without a pre-existing kidney problem and can be eaten safely.
In the United States, it's difficult to go a single day without eating potatoes in some form. While there's no need to worry that your delicious bowl of mashed potatoes is going to secretly kill you, you can make yourself seriously sick if you don't know how to choose and prepare potatoes correctly.
Potatoes contain compounds known as glycoalkaloids, which are toxic to humans. Thankfully, these compounds are mostly found in the leaves of a potato plant (which we don't eat). However, they can also accumulate in the sprouted "eyes" of old potatoes, so it's always important to cut them off before cooking. Even a small amount of these glycoalkaloids can prove fatal to a human.
Honestly, we could probably put all alcohol on this list. It may be a fun and delicious human tradition that's thousands of years old, but that doesn't mean it's good for you. However, some forms of booze are probably riskier than others, and that includes absinthe, the super green (and super powerful) invented in the 1700s.
Absinthe contains the plant wormwood, which, according to rumors, can cause hallucinations. While these hallucinatory properties seem to be nothing more than urban legend, it does appear that wormwood can cause issues like kidney failure, seizures, and muscle problems. Thankfully, the levels found in absinthe shouldn't pose a problem to people without pre-existing issues.
Raw Bean Sprouts
There aren't many foods out there that feel more hippie-dippie than raw bean sprouts. They've been touted as a healthy snack or addition to meals, and in all honesty, they probably are. However, the risks of eating raw sprouts have started to outweigh the benefits in the minds of many people.
There's nothing dangerous about the sprouts themselves—it's the warm, moist conditions they're grown in. In addition to sprouts, bacteria like E. Coli also love to grow in conditions like these. While only three deaths have ever been attributed to raw sprouts, they're responsible for thousands of illnesses.
Dragon's Breath Pepper
Spicy food challenges have become all the rage recently. And while it may seem like harmless food fun, you can actually put your body in serious danger if you push it too far. That's especially true when it comes to peppers that are cultivated specifically to be painfully hot, like the Dragon's Breath pepper.
The Dragon's Breath pepper allegedly has a Scoville rating of 2.48 million, which makes it about 50 times hotter than your average jalapeno. Ingesting too much of this pepper can literally burn away at the lining of your stomach and intestines. And in rare cases, it may cause your body to go into anaphylactic shock.
Nomura's jellyfish are truly massive, with full-grown specimens sometimes being larger than a human. Like most jellyfish stings, getting nabbed by Nomura's jellyfish can lead to symptoms such as itching, severe pain, and even death. However, they also pose a risk when you try to eat them.
Like many species of jellyfish, Nomura's jellyfish contain certain compounds that are toxic to humans if not prepared properly. As with pufferfish, chefs need to be meticulously trained in the safe preparation of this dish. This is definitely one meal that you don't want to try to recreate at home!
Fesikh is a traditional form of fermented fish that originated in ancient Egypt. Modern Egyptians still enjoy this regional delicacy today, especially during Sham Ennessim, which is a national holiday celebrating the beginning of spring. However, if prepared incorrectly, this fish could make you very sick, as several people inevitably come down with food poisoning each year during the festival.
As with many varieties of fermented meat, the risk of botulism is high if not prepared correctly. This deadly bacteria can cause symptoms ranging from nausea and vomiting to paralysis and trouble breathing. Before and during the festival, the Egyptian health ministry puts out plenty of warnings about buying fesikh only from trusted vendors.
Larb is considered the national dish of Laos, but to outsiders, this is one food that probably sounds pretty strange. Although many varieties exist, the basic ingredients of larb include some sort of raw, minced meat combined with vegetables and sticky rice. It's pretty easy to see where the danger in this dish comes from.
The symptoms of eating raw mean vary depending on what kind of animal it is. For things like raw pork, the risk is trichinosis, which is a disease caused by roundworms found in the flesh of contaminated animals. On the other hand, the risks of eating raw freshwater fish include a flatworm that can live in the human liver for years.
Raw milk is a controversial subject across the globe. While many countries have no qualms with raw milk and cheese created with it, the United States still warns that raw milk and products that use it is dangerous and can lead to bacterial infections like E. coli and salmonella.
On the flip side, raw milk often offers superior nutritional value to pasteurized milk, with higher levels of both calcium and vitamin D. Like most things in life, raw milk is definitely not risk-free, but some people seem to find it an acceptable risk while others do not.
Silver Stripe Blaasop
We're not sure what it is about the ocean producing so many fish and other creatures that are deadly to eat, but we've got to add silver-stripe blaasop to that list as well. This fish is found in both the Mediterranean sea and the Indian ocean and is considered a bit of a delicacy in these regions.
However, eating the organs or skin of this fish can prove to be deadly in humans. Symptoms from the toxin found in this fish can range from breathing difficulties all the way to death. Governments in the region were prompted to issue warnings about the fish after ten deaths were reported in Egypt in the 2000s.
Shellfish are some of the most commonly eaten animals on earth, but they can also be one of the most deadly. As far as allergies go, shellfish allergies are some of the most common you'll find and affect more than 7 million people in the United States alone.
Mild symptoms of a shellfish allergy include rashes and itchiness, but on the more severe end of the spectrum, ingesting shellfish can cause some people to go into anaphylactic shock. What's even worse is that some people aren't born with shellfish allergies but instead develop them later in life, so you might not even realize it's a danger to you!
For seasoned mushroom hunters, eating wild mushrooms probably doesn't pose much of a risk to you. However, for the rest of us, there's nothing more reckless than blindly eating the wild mushrooms we find in the great outdoors. While some may taste great, others have the potential to be downright deadly to humans.
According to some mushroom organizations, of the 10,000 mushroom varieties found in North America, roughly 100 of them are lethal to humans. Those aren't the worst odds in the world, but we're not about to risk our lives over a meal! We'll stick with the grocery store mushrooms; thank you very much.