Humans love food, simple as that. Oddly enough, we are also creatures that like to indulge in risk. Through the countless ways different cultures have found to get calories and tickle their taste buds, there's a handful of dishes that are potentially perilous to our health.
Here's a round-up of the most deadly and dangerous dishes from every corner of our strange yet wonderful little planet.
Among the many things The Simpsons has taught us, it’s that there’s a dish made from a pufferfish that can potentially kill you if prepared incorrectly.
Fugu is a Japanese, Korean, and Singaporean delicacy that consists of chopped pufferfish served in a raw sashimi style. While the muscle tissue is safe to eat, the fish’s liver – considered by some to be the tastiest part of the fish – contains the potent neurotoxin tetrodotoxin (TTX) that leads to dizziness, tingling sensations, and muscle weakness. In severe cases, the person may present with respiratory depression, circulatory failure, and death.
Large parts of the world, including Japan, have banned the preparation of the pufferfish’s liver, but culinary snobs are fighting hard to get it back on the menu.
Liver Cancer Salad
Koi pla is a salad from northeastern Thailand made of chopped raw fish, a spicy salad dressing, lime juice, and a sprinkling of live red ants (video below).
As if this doesn’t sound adventurous enough for you, the dish has also been linked to instances of liver cancer. In rural parts of Thailand’s Isaan province, where the dish is particularly popular, liver cancer accounts for more than 50 percent of cancers diagnosed in men, compared to just 10 percent globally. The causative agent is liver flukes, a type of parasitic flatworm, that often live inside the fish. Since the dish is served raw, the nasty parasites remain alive.
Pagpag, Fresh From The Trash
As a testament to the shocking levels of poverty in the Philippine capital Manila, “pagpag” is a term used to describe street food that’s been salvaged from the trash, washed, and re-fried in hot oil (video below). The word pagpag translates from Tagalog to literally mean "shake off the dust or dirt".
Small businesses collect the food, which consists of stuff from landfill sites and garbage cans, discarded fast food, and expired frozen food discharged from supermarkets. Needless to say, the practice has been linked to a whole host of communicable diseases, including cholera, hepatitis A, and typhoid. However, faced with no other option, pagpag remains a common practice across the country’s poorest corners.
Cassava is an edible starchy plant native to the Americas, although regularly eaten in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. In fact, it’s the main source of calories for over 500 million people in the world.
Despite its popularity, its leaves and roots also contain a substance that, when eaten, can trigger the production of cyanide. To remove this potentially deadly agent, the cassava must have its linamarin content removed through a fairly long process of drying, soaking in water, and then rinsing or cooling.
It’s perhaps no surprise there’s a regular stream of news reports about people being hospitalized after eating some bad cassava.
A favorite drink among arty types and bohemians in 19th-century Europe, absinthe has a legendary status for its alcoholic strength and its supposed psychedelic properties. In years gone by, the licorice-flavored drink was closely associated with hallucinations, seizures, mental illness, psychosis, and all kinds of social problem.
Some scientific studies have thrown cold water on that idea, suggesting that these side effects are merely the result of alcoholism. However, other scientific research suggests these effects could be linked to alpha-thujone, a neuron that works on the same brain receptor responsible for a form of epilepsy.
Undoubtedly, there’s a lot of mythology surrounding this green-tinted drink, however that hasn’t stopped it from having a controversial and murky legal status in many countries.
Starfruit, aka carambola, is yet another widely eaten plant with a deadly secret. This time around it’s a neurotoxin called caramboxin. If you’re relatively fit and healthy, your body should be able to break down any reasonable level of caramboxin. However, if you have kidney problems, a glass of its juice could be enough to leave you with “star fruit intoxication”, a condition that could leave you with vomiting, numbness of limbs, decreased muscle power, twitching of muscles, confusion, and convulsions.
Ackee is a fruit enjoyed across West Africa and the Carribean, most often served along saltfish or made into an alcoholic wine. Although it might be one of Jamaica's proudest national dishes, this innocent-sounding fruit also contains the toxins hypoglycin A and B. Within just two to six hours of eating the wrong parts of this unripened fruit, you will be welcomed with a severe case of vomiting. If you’re unlucky, you’ll also have seizures, fall into a coma, and potentially even die.