I have been working in home gardens since I was old enough to walk. I have been cooking since I was in fifth grade. In college I took a course that certified me in food service sanitation. So I am familiar with a lot of the dangers involved in bringing food from the harvest to the meal table. The news is constantly warning about dangers from improperly handled and/or cooked meats and fish products. However there is also danger from many of the plants and fruits that we grow in our yards and gardens.
I think most people know that the stems and leaves of tomato and potato plants are highly toxic. Along with peppers, eggplant and several other species – they are all part of the deadly nightshade family. (Kind of makes you want to pull out the old witches kettle, next time you indulge.) Yet the fruits of the tomato/pepper/eggplant and tubers of the potato are very edible and nutritious. Though eggplant should be cooked to remove toxins naturally contained in the fruit, before consuming. One problem with potatoes is that if they have started displaying a green color, it is an indicator that the poison Solanine has began to build-up in the tuber. I have actually eaten green potatoes all my life though they should be discarded for safety. As a kid I can remember a lot of my family picked poke salad greens for our consumption. If improperly cooked the plant is poisonous to eat. Another potentially toxic food that has always been on our family table -though I am not a big fan of it- is rhubarb. All parts of the plant contain poison though the most dangerous concentration is contained in the leaves. As a kid, until I was scolded by my parents, I used to crack open peach pits in order eat the bitter almond like seed contained inside which also contains poison. Actually many seeds of fruits contain varying levels of poison. Most of this stuff I learned as a kid growing up in the country. Still as much as you know, it seems that there are always things to learn about the food we eat.
I love cashews. Yet I found out over the years I have to limit my intake to a bare minimum. If I eat more than a handful at a time my whole body begins to itch. I never understood why until a few year ago. It seems that the cashew nut is botanically a seed that grows on the outside of the cashew apple. The tree is actually related to poison ivy. I am highly allergic to members of the Poison Ivy family. In fact a raw cashew nut contains a considerable amount of a toxin that has to be cooked out of the product before it is edible. For that reason it is illegal to retail raw cashew nuts in many places. The toxin of the cashew nut is so strong that the cooking process must take place outdoors. Something I just learned in the ;ast few years was, although they do not seem to effect me in the manner cashews do, both mangoes and pistachio nuts are also in the same biological family as cashews.
Just recently I found out a product I have eaten often during my life is also highly toxic. Who knew! It seems that kidney beans, a staple in many recipes, especially two of my favorite dishes – kidney bean salad and chili – are highly toxic unless cooked for a lengthy time. As few as two-to-three raw undercooked beans can cause illness in a human. Of course most of the kidney beans I have used over the years have been canned and precooked at the factory. However I have at times cooked raw kidney beans from scratch. The interesting thing I read about cooking kidney beans is that they must be cooked at a hard boil for considerable minutes to remove the toxin. Plus the use of a slow cooker to cook kidney beans can actually increase the amount of toxin in the batch of beans. Kidney bean toxicity was a strange lesson for an individual that has been cooking and eating them, as long as I have.
Not that any of this will stop me from eating any of my favorite fruits and vegetables. Heck cashews can make me itch furiously – still I allow myself to eat them on occasion. The thing is, any food can be dangerous. I take a pill that does not allow me to eat grapefruit. That is a real bummer as I used to eat a lot of Texas Rio Red grapefruit during the season. Some people are allergic to many everyday food items such as peanuts. Fortunately I am not one of those people. Pathogens can be hiding on your fruit or vegetables just as they can be hidden on meats and other proteins. Many people with health threatening diseases have to juggle their intakes of foods -like those high in potassium– that can exacerbate their condition. Most of this is old news – still as with my recent education about kidney beans – there is always more to learn about what you are eating. Maybe we should all just stick to a steady diet of doughnuts and Twinkies!
- Healthy Foods That Can Kill (foxnews.com)