Sean Cate
Sean Cate
June 7, 2024 ·  5 min read

17 Potentially Deadly Dishes That People Still Eat

Dishes can pose serious risks if they aren’t prepared properly. It might be an exotic delicacy or an everyday foods in your life, but whatever it is, these foods continue to be enjoyed by people around the world. The risks are often due to cultural traditions, culinary curiosity, or maybe just good old fashioned thrill-seeking. Here are 17 potentially deadly dishes that people still eat:

1. Fugu (Pufferfish)

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Fugu is a Japanese delicacy, and is infamous for being lethal if prepared wrong. The internal organs of the pufferfish contain a poison called tetrodotoxin, which is 1,200 times more potent than cyanide. A tiny amount can paralyze the muscles bad enough it can lead to respiratory failure. Only specially trained and licensed chefs are allowed to prepare fugu, but even with these precautions, deaths are still reported every few years.1

2. Ackee Fruit

A pile of raw ackees in their pods; blighia sapida
Source: Shutterstock

Ackee, the national fruit of Jamaica, is a main ingredient in the popular dish “ackee and saltfish” (makes sense). However, if the fruit isn’t properly ripened first, the it will contains hypoglycin A and B, both toxins that can cause severe vomiting and death. The fruit must left to naturally ripen on the tree before being deemed safe to eat, ensuring the toxins are gone before it’s used.

Read More: With Food Costs Rising, These 18 Foods Are Just Not Worth It Anymore

3. Casu Marzu

Casu Marzu, sardinian cheese with larvae of Piophila Casei
Source: Shutterstock

Casu marz is a Sardinian cheese made by fermenting pecorino cheese with live insect larvae in it (who comes up with these dishes?). The larvae digest the cheese and make a ned texture and flavor profile. But if the larvae are not properly chewed, they can survive your digestive tractand cause severe health issues in your intestines. Because of these risks, casu marzu is banned in many countries.

4. Sannakji

a set of fresh octopus sashimi
Source: Shutterstock

Sannakji, a Korean dish, consists of live octopus tentacles that are still wriggling. The hazard lies in the suction cups on the tentacles, that can stick to the throat and pose a significant choking hazard. This risk isn’t just a hypothetical, as about six people die every year from eating sannakji.2

5. Cassava

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Cassava is a root crop used to make tapioca, bread, and cakes. However, it also contains cyanide when raw. To remove it, cassava must be properly cooked by a boiling, grilling, or steaming process. Incorrectly preparing it can lead to cyanide poisoning, which is especially dangerous for children.

6. Blood Clams

Grilled cockle in Thai seafood style.
Source: Shutterstock

Blood clams are popular for their rich, red flesh that contain high levels of hemoglobin. However, since they’re often eaten raw, blood clams have been known to carry viruses and bacteria like hepatitis A, typhoid, and dysentery. It is important to boil them down thoroughly to kill these pathogens before eating.

7. Elderberries

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Elderberries have various applications, but their raw berries, bark, and leaves have cyanogenic glycosides, which produce cyanide. Proper cooking neutralizes the toxins, but eating raw elderberries can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which can be fatal in large amounts.

8. Pangium Edule

Pangium edule seeds on the tree, used as a spice in Indonesian cooking. Known as Kluwek. Used as an ingredient in traditional Indonesian dishes, namely Rawon.
Source: Shutterstock

Pangium edule trees can be found in Southeast Asia, and they bear fruit that has cyanide in its skin. To make it safe to eat, the fruit has to be soaked in running water for several days, then boiled, and then peeled. Improper preparation can, naturally, lead to cyanide poisoning. Better be a tasty fruit for all that prep…

Read More: 5 Ingredients You Do Not Want in Your Food

9. Jellyfish

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While certain species of jellyfish are edible, they must be prepared correctly to remove their toxic chemicals. In Chinese cuisine, boiled jellyfish are a popular addition in salads. If they aren’t prepared properly, they can cause severe reactions from their venomous stingers.

10. Bitter Almonds

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Bitter almonds contain amygdalin, which, when consumed, converts to cyanide in the body (a lot of cyanide scares in nature). While the almonds sold in stores are usually processed to remove most of the toxins, consuming unprocessed bitter almonds can be dangerous. It only takes a few bitter almonds to cause serious cyanide poisoning.

11. Hákarl

Fermented shark (Hakarl) hanging to dry in Iceland
Source: Shutterstock

Hákarl is an Icelandic dish made from Greenland shark, and involves fermenting the shark’s flesh to remove the fish’s natural toxins. Fresh Greenland shark meat is poisonous due to high levels of urea and trimethylamine oxide. After fermenting and drying, the toxins are reduced but not completely gone, so the ammonia-rich meat must be properly prepared to eat safely.

12. Cherry Pits

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Cherry stones, as well as apricot and peach pits, contain amygdalin, which converts to cyanide in the body. While one stone probably won’t be fatal, having large amounts can lead to cyanide poisoning. Accidental ingestion of whole stones usually poses minimal risk, as they pass through the digestive system intact. Just be sure not to chew on any (they’ll probably also damage your teeth).

13. Starfruit

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Starfruit, also called carambola, can be dangerous for anyone with kidney problems. Starfruit has a neurotoxin in it that healthy kidneys filter out, but for anyone with impaired kidney function, the toxin can accumulate and cause symptoms like confusion, seizures, and even death.

14. Absinthe

Green cocktail in a crystal glass with a sugar cube on a silver spoon on a dark green background
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The highly alcoholic spirit was once believed to have hallucinogenic properties because of the compound thujone found in it. However, the real danger lies in its high alcohol content, which can reach up to 74% ABV (tequila, by contrast, has an ABV of around 45%).  Excessive consumption can lead to alcohol poisoning and all he other joyous health issues that come with it.

Read More: 14 Foods To Help You Sleep (+ Foods to Avoid)

15. Raw Red Kidney Beans

Kidney Beans
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Red kidney beans are full of phytohemagglutinin, a toxic lectin that can cause major gastrointestinal issues. Boil the beans for at least 10 minutes to reduce the toxin to safe ingestion levels. Eating them raw or undercooked can lead to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

16. Fesikh

Fesikh - feseekh - Egyptian salted fish, traditional Egyptian food, attractively processed, super delicious.
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Fesikh is a traditional Egyptian dish made from fermented and salted fish. But if not enough salt is sued or if the fish isn’t properly dried, it can create the perfect environment for Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which causes botulism (a potentially life-threatening condition that attacks your nerves). In 2019, this dish led to 70 hospitalizations in Alexandria.

17. Rhubarb Leaves

Rhubarb leaf
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Rhubarb stalks are common to desserts, but their leaves actually contain high levels of oxalic acid, which can be fatal in large doses. Eating rhubarb leaves can cause difficulties in breathing, seizures, and kidney failure.

Food for Thought

Dangerous food. Empty plate, fork and knife wrapped in crime scene tape.
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These dishes, while culturally significant and even considered delicacies, should remind us of the importance of proper food preparation and to simply be aware of the risks some food carry. Whether driven by tradition, adventure, or sheer curiosity, anyone eating these foods should exercise caution and respect for the potential dangers involved.

Read More: Does Junk Food Cause Cancer? Morgan Spurlock, Maker of Super Size Me, Dies From Disease at Age 53


  1. 17 DEADLY Dishes Around The World That People Still Eat.” MSN. loveFOOD Staff. May 2024.
  2. 20 Dangerous & Deadly Foods People Around The World Still Eat.” Your Tango. NyRee Ausler. February 3, 2023.