Thursday, June 6, 2013

Potato Sprouts and the Darwin Awards

Have you ever tasted potato sprouts?

DON'T DO IT. They are poison!!!

Having said that, I did that just the other day. Let me explain.

So, I was eating all sorts of stuff that you can find on your lawn and in your backyard in the last several weeks, even posted about some spring recipes. I started to feel a little giddy thinking about Noma and eating food that is going past its prime or just beginning the life cycle, depending on how you look at it.

I was peeling some potatoes that had started sprouting and cut out an eye with a small sprout. I put it to my mouth and bit down. I remembered the many times that I would pick on people telling them how raw potatoes are poisonous and still the jaws clamped down. Before we find out whether I die of the poison, let's go on a bit of an aside.

In this day and age, so many of us are too cognizant of the best before date. Any fermentable comestible becomes a problem regardless of its age. It is the date that seems to scare us. I have been reading a lot lately about fermentation and remembering my grandma's farm. They only had a few milk cows but it served their needs. A couple of times I was there to watch the milking or see the cream on the top of the milk pail the day after. One of the coolest things was watching the separator that had a small machine engine that would spin a centrifuge to mechanically separate the cream and the milk. There was even a milk churn that was wooden barrel with a bung in a metal frame that would allow the whole milk to be sloshed about until it turned into butter.

I remember seeing the milk pail sitting outside with no refrigeration overnight to let nature do its work. I don't remember anyone getting poisoned. I am sure that their could be food borne illnesses but there wasn't. Now, there is an element of risk with raw milk. Death is rare.  Not trying to preach that raw is all just trying to outline the risk that we would accept previously was greater.

Poison is a little different than just getting sick due to bacteria. The truth is that many common ingredients are toxic. I suppose that in theory most things have a level of toxicity. We humans often use the toxic effects as recreation from drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.

Back to the potatoes. Green patches on potatoes and the sprouts contain two poisonous ingredients. One is solanine. There have been only rare cases of solanine poisoning in the US and seem to be due to eating green potatoes or using the leaves of the plant. In Britain, in the 1970's there was poisoning of boys at a school but no one died.

Here's the thing, most stuff that will poison you tastes horrid. As the sprout crunched and snapped in two in my mouth, the bitterness and crapitude of that one bite would prevent me from eating the crapulence of sprouts required to achieve the lethal dose, let alone a dose large enough to make me sick. It sucked.

Will this stop me from trying lethal foods that might cause me to win a Darwin Award? There are some really risky foods that can cause death at a small dosage and I am aware enough to know. So,  most wild berries and mushrooms will make a pass until I can be incredibly reassured at their safety. As for the odd ingredient, most have a toxic dose that requires so much that I am sure to be sick before I could stomach enough.

Also, if you have immune problems, pregnant, or are a small kid, don't try this stuff. Just don't. But some risks are smaller than you think. I didn't suffer any ill effects from that sprout aside from five minutes of horrid bitterness in my mouth.

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