Cherry Pits Also in the category of all-natural ingredients that aren’t good for you, particularly in large quantities: cherry pits. Eating them can produce cyanide poisoning; so can peach, plum and apricot pits. Before you swear off all the great summer fruits, note that the pits have to be chewed up to release the toxins – and you’d have to chew a lot of pits before you hit a dangerous level. Still, just spit the pits.
Or, if you’re enterprising, save them. According to Michigan Cherry Pit Recyclers, cherry pits burn hotter than wood pellets and leave almost no ash. Plus, it’s cheap fuel – at least if you’ve been eating a lot of cherries.
Sichuan Peppercorns Is it just me or are there a ton of Sichuan restaurants opening up around the country? (Special shout out here to the excellent new Mission Chinese Food in Manhattan.) Is there a downside to this? Only if you believe that a signature ingredient in the cooking—Sichuan peppercorns, which provoke a wonderfully tingly mouth-numbing sensation—may be toxic. A ban of the dried berries, which ended in 2005, was only because it was potentially harmful to citrus plants, not people.
Here’s what the terrific website Serious Eats had to say on the subject: “Like some other habit-forming items, Sichuan peppercorns are actually toxic when ingested in large quantities.” But Dr. Andrew Weil thinks otherwise: “Their toxicity appears to be minimal.”
Pine Nuts To me this has all the trappings of a horror story. Out of nowhere, my Food & Wine colleague Kristin Donnelly started experiencing everything she ate and drank as bitter and medicinal. Scary! Eventually, after extensive time spent Googling symptoms, Kristin determined her predicament was caused by pine nuts she’d had in a salad. The phenomenon now has a name: Pine Mouth (the fancier name is Pine Nut Mouth).
Kristin used nuts imported from China; however, USDA scientists tested the DNA of 45 sample pine nuts and couldn’t get a definitive source for Pine Mouth, which means I can’t offer you one either. I just hope it doesn’t stop you from making pesto this season.