Friday, May 18, 2012

Playing with poison

We all eat food, because it is necessary to sustain life. Without food, our bodies would become weak and eventually we would be prone to diseases. We take great care in selecting, what we eat. In fact, every day, news paper columns keep on advising us about what to eat and what is good or really bad for us.

Some organic materials are known to be unfit for consumption. Some are even known to be dangerous to our life itself. In our garden, we used to have a creeper with beautiful flowers known as 'Kalalaavee' (Gloriosa Superba ). My grand mother would always insist that we do not touch the flowers as she thought that they contained poison. 

Seeds of another flower, which commonly grew on banks of water canals and known as 'Dhotra' or 'Datura', ( Datura Metel, Devil's Trumpet ) is supposed to be a deadly poison. I really can not vouch that these things are really poisonous. Only a botanist may know the truth. Still, there is a saying that one should never dice with death, which works like a red flag within my mind and I avoid handling or even touching such organics.
Some of the common types of foods that we eat, can become poisonous for some people or under some conditions to everyone. A common food item like Potatoes, when with a greenish tinge, is supposed to have an organic chemical called Glycoalkaloids, which can induce cramping, diarrhea, confused headaches, or even coma and death. Just 3 to 6 mg per kilogram of body weight could be fatal.

Indians love coffee with a pinch of Nutmeg. Even famous coffee chain 'Starbucks' always keeps a Nutmeg powder bottle handy for sprinkling on your coffee in their shops. Actually speaking, Nutmeg is a hallucinogenic. Consuming about 5.5 gms of Nutmeg powder can lead to convulsions and 7.5 gms of it can give you seizures. If consumed in large quantities, it creates Nutmeg Psychosis and can be ultimately fatal too.

Rhubarb or Rewachini is a herb that grows in Himalayan valleys. It's stalks are used for making chutney and also as a purgative and astringent, yet the leaves are considered poisonous, because they contain Oxalic acids. Eating large quantities of leafs can give you kidney stones.

Everyone loves mushrooms. Yet, one of our deadliest fungi or Mushrooms is known as the 'Death cap toadstool' or Amanita phalloides. This mushroom has a plain appearance and looks very similar to many edible mushrooms but it contains a high concentration of poisonous amatoxin, which can break down the enzymes responsible for cell metabolism in our bodies and can be fatal.

Now we come to the deadliest food of all. A special kind of fish caught by Japanese fishermen in seas near Japan, only during winter. It is known as 'Fugu' or Blowfish. This fish is extremely poisonous. A smallest mistake in it's preparation, would be fatal for the consumer. Yet this fish with it's distinctive taste and texture is considered as super delicacy in Japan. Some of the finest restaurants in Tokyo serve this fish and may charge more than US$ 120 or more for a meal. Most of the organs of this fish like it's brain, eyes, liver, intestines or guts and skin are deadly poisonous. In females, the ovaries are the most poisonous parts. It is said that Fugu organs are 200 times more poisonous than cyanide.

Fugu fish organs contain a known poisonous substance called Tetrodotoxin. If this poison is consumed the victim remains conscious throughout, but gets numbness around the mouth followed by paralysis and death by respiratory failure. Besides Fugu fish, this poison is also found in blue-ringed octopuses, some toads, newts and other animals. Tetrodotoxin poisoning is described as rapid and violent and there is no antidote. In spite of all this dangerous possibilities, Japanese diners love this delicacy. Tokyo's city government allows only highly trained and licensed chefs to serve the dish. Cutting of the fish is the most critical part of the cooking. Fugu chefs are considered as the elite of Japan's culinary world. Twenty-three people have died in Japan after eating Fugu fish since 2000, according to government figures. However, only one woman was hospitalized after eating Fugu fish in a restaurant, She was found to have consumed a trace of Fugu liver.

Thin slices of Fugu meat look like white petals and are normally poached in a table top broth set. Some of the popular Japnese dishes are Fugu stew and Grilled Fugu with Teriyaki sauce. It is just amazing that Japanese food connoisseurs take such potential risks for a dish they love. How true is the fact that human mind can take any risk (including fatality risk) just to have a good meal.
19th May 2012


  1. The Govt is planning to relax the stringent licensing process. Please read the news below which came in Papers on18 May 2012

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is set to enact a bill to revise the ordinance on regulating fugu trade by the end of the month. Any revision will likely take effect in October.

    Fugu ovaries, liver and other internal organs contain enough poison to be lethal, which is why Tokyo and other prefectures have licensing a requisite for serving it.

    However, the ordinance has become somewhat outdated because many Tokyo residents now buy fugu, known for its chewy, nonfatty white meat, from prefectures with fewer restrictions, said Hironobu Kondo of the metro government's food control department.