Dangerous foods - don't eat these at home
June 1st, 2012
12:00 PM ET
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Kate Krader (@kkrader on Twitter) is Food & Wine's restaurant editor. When she tells us where to find our culinary heart's desire, we listen up.

This gorgeous spring weather triggers so many thoughts and emotions. It could make you daydream about weekend beach getaways, lolling around in a hammock, fresh produce - hey, isn't rhubarb in season? A fresh pie sounds just delicious - and wouldn't it be so much prettier if you included a few of those lovely leaves?

Don’t do it, unless you're planning on making this your last meal. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, raw or cooked (they contain a not-good-for-you substance - oxalic acid). The stalk isn’t toxic, although it’s crazy tart if it’s not cooked and somehow sweetened up. Here are a couple of other ingredients to avoid - or at least moderate your consumption of - this season.

Ever since the Cinnamon Challenge kicked off, I’ve taken the precaution of investigating all the spices in my cabinet. (Not that I’m planning to start my own Spice Challenge; it’s just so I’m prepared if things get crazy at a party.) Nutmeg contains myristicin, a substance that can cause hallucinations, convulsions, vomiting and, in more extreme cases, circulatory collapse. You’d have to eat a lot of nutmeg - at least one whole seed, and generally more - for anything bad to happen. Still, please avoid any kind of spice powder eating competitions.

Cherry Pits
Also in the category of all-natural ingredients that aren’t good for you, particularly in large quantities: cherry pits. Eating them can produce cyanide poisoning; so can peach, plum and apricot pits. Before you swear off all the great summer fruits, note that the pits have to be chewed up to release the toxins - and you’d have to chew a lot of pits before you hit a dangerous level. Still, just spit the pits.

Or, if you’re enterprising, save them. According to Michigan Cherry Pit Recyclers, cherry pits burn hotter than wood pellets and leave almost no ash. Plus, it’s cheap fuel - at least if you’ve been eating a lot of cherries.

Sichuan Peppercorns
Is it just me or are there a ton of Sichuan restaurants opening up around the country? (Special shout out here to the excellent new Mission Chinese Food in Manhattan.) Is there a downside to this? Only if you believe that a signature ingredient in the cooking—Sichuan peppercorns, which provoke a wonderfully tingly mouth-numbing sensation—may be toxic. A ban of the dried berries, which ended in 2005, was only because it was potentially harmful to citrus plants, not people.

Here’s what the terrific website Serious Eats had to say on the subject: "Like some other habit-forming items, Sichuan peppercorns are actually toxic when ingested in large quantities." But Dr. Andrew Weil thinks otherwise: “Their toxicity appears to be minimal.”

Pine Nuts
To me this has all the trappings of a horror story. Out of nowhere, my Food & Wine colleague Kristin Donnelly started experiencing everything she ate and drank as bitter and medicinal. Scary! Eventually, after extensive time spent Googling symptoms, Kristin determined her predicament was caused by pine nuts she’d had in a salad. The phenomenon now has a name: Pine Mouth (the fancier name is Pine Nut Mouth).

Kristin used nuts imported from China; however, USDA scientists tested the DNA of 45 sample pine nuts and couldn’t get a definitive source for Pine Mouth, which means I can’t offer you one either. I just hope it doesn’t stop you from making pesto this season.

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© 2011 American Express Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

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Filed under: Allergies • Content Partner • Food and Wine • Health News

soundoff (364 Responses)
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    February 12, 2013 at 7:29 am |
  3. bulls*it

    hey dude just eat bread... but if you're allergic to gluten... that means eat nothing!

    February 4, 2013 at 4:56 am |
  4. EllisF

    This article is a load of horse...radish.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
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    June 14, 2012 at 5:08 am |
  6. GiGi Eats Celebrities

    Wait? So can I eat these things say... at the office? At the hair salon? Grocery Store? I'm confused. LOL! Just Kidding.

    June 13, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
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    June 11, 2012 at 4:37 am |
  8. Jer

    My wifehas been cooking with nutmeg and pine nuts the last fewdays...is she trying to kill me?

    June 8, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  9. roboto76

    Aren't most foods dangerous if eaten in large quantities? I mean, if i ate 10 pounds of chocolate, would that not also be dangerous? Just saying...

    June 8, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  10. BTR

    Is it ok to eat the tootsie rolls in the kitty litter?

    June 8, 2012 at 6:14 am |
    • BTR

      After I brush off the kitty litter, of course. I know that's not good for you.

      June 8, 2012 at 6:15 am |
  11. Chris

    I can't believe the amount of people giving Kate such a hard time about writing this article. Nobody forced you to read it OR spend the time to complain about it! Seems to be a lot of people need to get a life.
    Great article Kate, thank you for your contribution.

    June 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • MarkGlicker

      Good to know these things. LOL.

      June 8, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  12. Jon

    Pine Mouth may also be a result of using certain kinds of toothpaste. We had very similar symptoms and from our research discovered that the Crest Pro-Health toothpaste we were using was the source of the consistently metallic taste in everything were eating. As soon as we switched to a different toothpaste (Tom's), our normal taste returned within a couple of days.

    June 7, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  13. rah2va

    This is so poorly written and researched. REALLY???? Nutmeg???

    June 7, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • John Cram

      This should bump Nutmeg sales to a new all time high. As the kids reading this (well someone will just text or facebook it) will surely be trying it.

      June 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
      • B Barker

        This is nothing new to kids it has been around for years...

        June 10, 2012 at 10:05 am |
      • Margaret

        It has been said for many many years that Nostradamus used to be addicted to nutmeg, and that the hallucinogenic properties may have been responsible for his described trance-like states and "visions".......

        March 25, 2014 at 10:39 am |
  14. Kate

    This was really the most worthless article ever written. My 10 year old writes better quality material than this. "They can be deadly! Only if you ingest 10 pounds of peppercorn.." Really?? Stupid...

    June 6, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • rubbish

      We can only hope the pitiful fool who rote this pathetic article gets fired, with extreme prejudice, and fast. That this piece of worthless trash wound up indexed on google news in the 'spotlight' section is just beyond comprehension. Whatever money you earned to write this article, lady, give it charity right now, the ungoldly ball of karma you've unleashed by wasting so many thousands of people's time needs to be remedied and fast. You are appalling.

      June 7, 2012 at 9:35 am |
      • Agent Bob

        Before you trash someone else's writing, perhaps you should learn how to spell.

        June 12, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  15. Thrisma

    Concernint pine nuts: they are exremly perishable, store them in a container in the freezer taking out what you need each time. They become rancid very quickly and I imagine that would create the bitter taste the writer experienced. Other nuts which reach the rancid stage will create a bitter taste and it often extends to the cooked product. Italians and (New Mexio residents) have been using pine nuts forever and with proper care should not bring about a problem.

    June 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • wendyb79

      Nope. Pine Mouth is real and has nothing to do with rancidity. The effect lasts much longer than the bad taste of a rancid nut. The varietals of pine nuts usually used in Italy don't seem to cause Pine Mouth.

      June 7, 2012 at 5:29 am |
      • b'nana

        note its pine nuts FROM CHINA which cause PineMouth– becoz of their nasty fertilizing practices. high in Bad Stuff

        May 6, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
        • Raz

          This article is true about the pine nuts. I had been eating a bag of raw pine nuts as a snack for over a period of 3 days. I still have metallic/bitter taste in my mouth (going on a week now) and will never eat another pine nut as long as I live! There are other websites that people have addressed on this issue. Glad I didn't have to go to Dr. and spend money on unnecessary tests.

          August 20, 2013 at 12:35 am |
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