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.
8. Hot Dogs
Wait, what?! Don’t worry, this isn’t a political statement or some gag about mystery meats. Rather, it’s about the fact that 17% of food-related asphyxiations in children under 10 come from this single food.
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.
4. Casu Marzu
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.
2. African Bullfrog
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.
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.