Every year around this time, the Halloween decorations come out and some make it their mission to have the scariest costume around. While monsters and zombies are common, have you ever seen someone dressed as a green potato? How about a rhubarb leaf?
The world of food has its superheroes (looking at you, blueberries) but also has its fair share of villains. Let’s get in the Halloween spirit by looking at some food that seems nutritious, but could actually be downright DEADLY.
A potato in its purest form (i.e. not put through a deep fryer) can certainly be part of a nutritious and, let’s face it, delicious diet. A medium baked potato contains around 20% of your daily recommended value of potassium, along with some fiber and other vitamins and minerals. It’s ironic that they get a bad reputation as being a white (and therefore must not be nutritious) when a different color could potentially harm you. Green potatoes are the result of the plant being exposed to too much sunlight, increasing its chlorophyll content. Green potatoes are also higher in alkaloids, which is a naturally occurring chemical compound. Alkaloids are produced by many living organisms, and can even be beneficial. Morphine, a powerful painkiller, is part of this class of chemicals. That’s not why eating a plate of French fries makes you feel so happy…but good try.
While alkaloids can be beneficial to humans, they also have the potential to be toxic, which is the case with green potatoes. The alkaloid that’s produced in the plant, solanine, gives the potato a very bitter taste, so it’s unlikely that someone would eat enough to actually make themselves sick. However, that’s not to say it’s never happened. I’ll spare you the details, but the Smithsonian Institute has a comprehensive history of death by potato that you can read if you’re looking for some scary stories.
Don’t spit out that pie quite yet! Unless you are dealing with a very inexperienced (or experimental) baker, the part of the rhubarb that you’re eating is perfectly safe, and nutritious. The stalks of the rhubarb plant look like pink celery, and are what’s used in those tasty summer desserts. Rhubarb is low in calories, but high in phytonutrients. Rhubarb contains flavonoids which support antioxidant defense and may contribute to the maintenance of brain function. The leaves, however, have it out for you.
The greens of the rhubarb plant contain oxalic acid, which in high doses can be toxic. A second toxin, anthraquinone glycosides, is also believe to be present in rhubarb leaves. If you find yourself munching on a leaf, you’ll likely experience gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea, as well as difficulty breathing or swallowing. Serious cases could lead to kidney failure, and potentially death.
No, your mom wasn’t trying to poison you all those years by demanding you eat your lima beans. The lima beans we’re used to are generally cooked and canned, making dinnertime childhood torture easy and convenient for parents around the world. The beans you need to watch out for are the raw ones, which contain linamarin. It decomposes to hydrogen cyanide after consumption, which in high enough levels can be fatal. Acute toxicity can lead to weakness, lightheadedness and cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin). In higher levels, more serious complications include coma, seizures and an irregular heartbeat. Chronic toxicity from eating raw lima beans on a regular basis could lead to nerve damage and even paralysis.
Cooking the beans all but eliminates the risk of consuming them. Like most legumes, lima beans are high in fiber, which means once properly cooked, the most dangerous thing they can do is present you with some mild gastrointestinal distress.
If you’ve enjoyed a craft cocktail recently, there’s a good possibility it contained elderflower liqueur. Made from the flowers of the elderberry plant, it gives a bright, floral note to drinks and has gained serious popularity over the last few years. This all might tempt you to want to try the berries themselves, but not so fast!
To the untrained eye, elderberries look like a great addition to a healthy diet. One cup contains a whopping 10 grams of fiber, and almost all your daily recommended value of vitamin C. That’s where the pros stop. The berries (along with the leaves, twigs, branches and roots), contain a cyanidin glycoside. Just like with lima beans, this results in the buildup of hydrogen cyanide in the body which can lead to some not-so-happy endings.
Plus, to really get into the Halloween spirit, it was once believed that witches liked to congregate under Elder trees, especially when it was full of the poisonous fruit. If that’s not a sign to avoid the stuff, I don’t know what is!
And finally, we’ve saved the most heinous ingredient for last. This food has been the cause of thousands of ruined meals and just the sight of it is enough to turn stomachs. I hope you have the theme song from your favorite horror movie playing right now, because it’s about to get scary. Without further ado, the number one most terrifying food is…
…nah, I’m kidding. I just can’t stand the stuff.
Have a safe and happy Halloween!