Chemistry

Do plants contain cyanide?

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2008-11-12 14:39:39
2008-11-12 14:39:39

Many plants contain cyanic glucoside (cyanide sugars) in their leaves and other structures to discourage herbivores and insects from eating them. In digestion, the compound is converted to cyanide gas, can lead to swift asphyxiation by disrupting the conversion of oxygen to energy within cells. A well-nourished person can detoxify small amounts of cyanide during digestion.

Some common foods contain cyanic glucosides, including garden beans and peas; tapioca (cassava); and members of the rose family, especially bitter almond, peach and apricot, along with cherry, loquat, and apple. The flesh of these fruits (the part we eat) does not contain the cyanide, though the seeds do; this is why we are warned against eating apple seeds, for instance. In general one would need to chew and eat an unusual quantity of the seeds to produce a toxic effect. If they were not chewed, the seeds would likely pass through the digestive tract without harm.

Cassava root must be specially processed (by drying and washing) to remove the cyanide prior to consumption. Contact with water removes the cyanide from the food and releases it into the air.

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