Apple Seeds Contain Cyanide

Today I found out apple seeds contain cyanide.

The seeds of apples, also known as “pips”, contain a sugar/cyanide compound called “amygdalin”, which turns into hydrogen cyanide when it is metabolized in your body. Hydrogen cyanide was one of the key ingredients to Zyklon B, the trade name of the pesticide used by the Nazis in their gas chambers.

Other fruit seeds that also have cyanogenic glycosides are cherries, peaches, certain almonds, plums, apricots, raspberries, and pears. (“Cyanogenic glycosides” are just molecules in which sugar is bound to a smaller non-carbohydrate molecule, in this case cyanide.)  Tapioca, also known as cassava root, is another plant that contains a cyanide precursor, namely linamarin.  If the roots aren’t processed correctly (drying, soaking, and baking them for a certain amount of time), they are extremely poisonous.

It takes only about 100-200 mg of cyanide, when eaten, or about 270 parts per million, when breathed in, to be fatal to an adult within a few minutes (about .68 mg per pound of body weight); obviously much less cyanide is needed to be fatal to children or pets.  Before you go panicking after accidentally swallowing an apple seed, you should know that ingesting a few seeds won’t kill you.  The human body is perfectly capable of handling very small doses of cyanide.  This is lucky for tobacco smokers; when a person smokes a cigarette, they’re breathing in low doses of hydrogen cyanide, which is then processed by the liver so that it can’t accumulate to sufficient amounts to cause major problems.

Another reason swallowing apple seeds isn’t that dangerous is that, if you just swallowed the seed without chewing it, it is likely to pass through your digestive system completely intact and undigested.  However, if for some odd reason you get a hankering to chew a bunch of apple seeds, or if your toddler decides apple seeds are the tastiest thing since ice cream, you should probably get yourself or your child to an emergency room stat.  If you can’t get to the hospital extremely quickly, it’s best to induce vomiting immediately.  Emptying your stomach of the cyanide is generally the first thing they’ll do at the hospital anyways, though usually via a stomach pump.

In either case, you have to be quick to take action because cyanide kills extremely fast.  It works by stopping your body from being able to use oxygen.  More specifically, cyanide binds to an enzyme inside the powerhouse of your cells (mitochondria) and stops them from being able to use oxygen to create energy. Thus, shortly after ingesting a sufficient dose of it, you’ll die of asphyxiation.

Specific symptoms of cyanide poisoning include, in mild cases, dizziness, confusion, anxiety, headaches, and vomiting. Slightly more severe effects include elevated heart rate and blood pressure, kidney failure, and breathing problems. In a sufficient dose, the most severe symptoms include convulsions, coma, and finally death.

Treatment for cyanide poisoning beyond using a stomach pump or inducing vomiting  was once very limited, but today there are some effective antidotes available, though getting them administered in time is sometimes a bit of an issue.  One of the more effective antidotes for cyanide poisoning has only become available since 2006.  This goes under the brand name Cyanokit which contains hydroxocobalamin.  Hydroxocobalamin reacts with the cyanide to form cyanocabalamin, which your kidneys are able to get rid of.

Bonus Facts:

  • The drug company Bayer, who once trademarked and marketed Heroin as a non-addictive alternative to morphine, had their legacy significantly tarnished during WWII when they became part of the Farben German chemical company conglomerate that is known to have used slave labor during WWII, including managing slave labor camps.  Further, Farben was the group that manufactured Zyklon B, which as noted was the cyanide based pesticide used in the Nazi gas chambers.  Bayer was forced to separate from Farben after WWII.
  • Johnny Appleseed was a real person.  Read more about this here: Johnny Appleseed was a Real Person
  • Certain types of plastics when burned release hydrogen cyanide.  This is yet another reason not to burn plastic or if you do, don’t stand near the flames or breathe the smoke.
  • If you’re caught in a house fire, you can also sometimes be killed by cyanide poisoning, even if you happen to make it out. This is because there are potentially many things in your home that when burned release hydrogen cyanide.  Given that there are very few signs and symptoms that can be definitively recognized as cyanide poisoning, particularly if a person is unconscious, it’s very hard for emergency workers in the field to recognize you are dying of cyanide poisoning, until it’s too late.  If you were just pulled out of a burning house, they also are likely checking and treating you for other things unrelated to cyanide poisoning.  Thus, the survival rate for people who experience cyanide poisoning from a house fire is fairly low.
  • Cyanide was the poison used in the mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana by the Peoples Temple.  Over 900 people, including children committed suicide by drinking “Flavor Aid” that contained potassium cyanide.
  • Probably the largest ever unintentional mass-death due to cyanide poisoning occurred in 1984 in Bhopal, India.  Several thousand tons of meythyl isocyanate were accidentally released into the air, killing around 25,000 people.
  • Cyanide is somewhat popularly used in gold and silver mining (accounting for about 13% of the global annual usage of cyanide today).  It turns out cyanide works well for dissolving gold and silver.  It is first mixed with finely ground ore; the gold or silver then dissolved out of the ore and the solution is collected.  The cyanide/gold or silver liquid mixture is further processed using zinc or activated carbon to extract the precious metal.
  • Cyanide supposedly smells like bitter almonds.  However, not everyone seems to be able to detect the odor (about 40% of people can’t), so next time you’re sipping tea with Dr. Evil, don’t count on your nose to be able to sniff out whether he’s poisoned your drink.
  • Apple trees (Species Malus Domestica) are a member of the rose family (Family Rosaceae) as are most of the other fruits listed above that contain a cyanide precursor.
  • Most apple trees cannot pollinate themselves. Their blossoms must be pollinated from another apple tree. The resulting fruit will be the same as the parent tree, but the seeds inside the fruit will have a genetic makeup from both trees. Say you have a Granny Smith apple tree in flower, and it gets pollinated from a nearby crab apple tree. The fruit that results will be a Granny Smith, but the seeds inside will have a questionable genetic makeup. Think of the apple as a pregnant belly, which results from a fertile mother. The baby inside is the seed. This seed is a genetic combination of the mother and father. The fruit that gets produced on the tree that follows is anyone’s guess. Given that there is no effective chastity belt for an apple tree with thousands of open and waiting blossoms that can be fertilized by any number of nearby suitors, it is impossible to know what fruit will be produced. Basically making apple trees the call girls of the fruit world and their offspring the bastard children of botany. Should you want to know for sure what kind of fruit the tree will yield, you will need to graft the tree, or pollinate it yourself (kinky).
  • Apples trees have been producing fruit for millions of years. Their human-like way of creating offspring using this genetic variability has allowed them to survive in environments very different from one another. Whether in California or Kazakhstan, each apple has about 7 seeds and several thousand seeds per tree, so it stands to reason that whatever adopted home the tree chooses to grow, there will be a few seeds that will have the genetic makeup to survive in that area.
  • In August of 2010 an Italian-led research consortium was able to decode the apple’s genome. This decoding led to many discoveries that showed the amazing ability of the apple tree to survive over time. They showed that apples have been around for over 50 million years, and around that time their genome nearly doubled from 9 to the current 17. Approximately 3000-4000 years ago people domesticated the tree and began cultivating them from a wild progenitor (original ancestor) Malus Sieversii. This particular species is still widespread in China and Kazakhstan, however is in danger of becoming extinct. Archeological evidence has also shown humans have been eating apples since at least 6500 B.C.
  • The genetic variability of apples has also given them the largest number of genes of any plant genome studied, approximately 57,000. For comparison sake, the human genome has about 30,000 genes! They also found that apples have 992 genes solely responsible for disease resistance. If only their human concubine counterparts could have such a capability of disease resistance! (practice safe sex kids!)
  • There are seemingly limitless varieties of apples that could come from any one apple producing operation. There are currently 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States, and 7,500 grown throughout the world. Because of this, current large scale apple producers use several techniques to insure specific types of apples do not vary greatly from one generation to the next.
  • Of the worldwide 64 million tons of apples produced in 2008, 42% were grown in China. While this may seem strange at first to those of us accustomed to the phrase “As American as apple pie”, it suits the origin of the species, Western Asia. The U.S. was the second greatest producer of apples in 2008, growing 6.6% of the total.  Third place is a bit more surprising- Iran, with 2.6 million tons, or 4.1% of the world’s apples.
  • Four steps must be followed in a modern apple breeding program:
    1. Definition of a prototype. This prototype must combine traits that are important to the consumer. Show resistance to major diseases, and be able to be stored long term.
    2. Actually producing hybrids from available varieties that show the traits stated in the prototypes definition.
    3. Cultivation of the hybrid fruit with replications in different places and years.
    4. Registration and patenting of the best fruit.

    This 4 step process generally takes between 15-20 years. This time frame is currently being reduced as genetic testing allows desirable varieties to be identified in as little as 4-5 months vs. the 4-5 years in older breeding programs.

  • For the health conscious out there, apples are fat, sodium, and cholesterol free. They are also a great source of the fiber pectin, containing about 5 grams worth, two-thirds of which is contained in the peel. The peel also contains several antioxidants that help reduce damage to cells. Further, a medium apple is only about 80 calories. For the not-so-health-conscious, 2 pounds of apples will produce one 9 inch apple pie.
  • The largest apple every picked weighed 3 pounds.
  • The science of apple growing is called pomology.
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  • “Hydrogen cyanide was one of the key ingredients to Zyklon B”

    That is scary!!

  • It would take around 100g of apple seeds to produce about 70mg of HCN, Therefore, you can chew quiet a few seeds and you wouldn’t have an issue. Great article. My guess is you scared a person who ate 4-5seeds 😛

    • I make milk shake everyday with apples, pears, bananas , mangoes along with seeds…Good for you to eat that small qty of cyanide everyday !

  • Hmmm…I’ve eaten apple seeds since I was a child, the whole apple. I’ve always really liked the taste of apple seeds.

    So 30+ years of 1 apple a day, 4-6 seeds a day? Doesnt cyanide store in the body?

    Why am I alive?

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Worried Now: A few seeds per day wouldn’t be (clearly from you still walking and talking) enough to kill you, particularly if you didn’t specific chew them. Though from your comment about the taste, perhaps you do. And your body can handle getting rid of small doses of cyanide easy enough, so it won’t accumulate at the rate you’re partaking of it. As mentioned in the article, it takes about 100-200 mg of Cyanide to kill you. Unless you decided to enter an apple eating contest in which you also chew all the seeds, I can’t imagine you’d be able to eat enough in a short enough span to kill yourself, unless doing it purposefully. That being said, maybe spit the seeds from now on or at the least don’t chew them. 🙂

      • Or maybe it’s just a lie and eating apple sends won’t harm you at all.

      • This article exaggerates a bit. Even if you mashed and chewed up the seeds, it would take about 100 seeds just to make a 1 mg dosage. Do the math on how many seeds it would take to meet the minimum 100mg lethal dosage.

        Also, take into account that most people would most likely eat the seeds by accident while eating an apple. The average apple contain 5-10 seeds. Therefore the average person couldn’t possibly eat enough apples to accidentally poison themselves. That would require more apples then the average person could physically shallow in one sitting. (And if a persons goal was to intentionally poison themselves, there are certainly easier ways to accomplish that.)

    • Maybe you’re not, we haven’t seen another post from you…

    • AbsolutelYFreeWeb

      I too have always liked the smell of apple seeds, thinking it smells a bit like almonds. I always eat apples whole, and enjoy chewing on the seeds most of the time. Not only that, some of the apricot seeds have great taste and I remember I gathered seeds of appricots as a child to clean and eat the content. Interesting to know I like the smell and taste of cyanide. Btw, all store apples taste bad. Get one from someones garden and you’ll see how much better it tastes…

  • uh i made a pipe to smoke out of an apple and i didnt take seeds oout am i fine??? please respond

  • This “scientific” explanations are not so scientific. First of all I eat apple seeds whole my life (I chew them all the time since I like the taste). Sometimes I even eat seeds from 1kg of apples and I never had any health problems regarding that. So although there is maybe poison there seeds from one, two, three, even 5 apples do not cause any harm. As I said, I sometimes eat 30+ seeds and nothing happens.
    Also those “modern” approach to cultivating apples gave us those tasteless apples. If you want to taste real apple forget “scientific” approach and find some Village where people sell apples, you will be surprised how good apple tastes :). Why I put scientific under quotes all the time. I do it because it is not scientific it is more consumer approach, since they are maximizing apple resistance to diseases, chemical substances, etc. just so they can easily grow it and sell it. However no one is thinking about taste, health, etc.

  • You guys this info is completely misleading… Eating the seeds of 3-4 apples a day is actually one of the best things you can do for yourself to prevent or heal cancerous tumors. There is an enzyme in every healthy cell of your body that prevents the cyanid from being released. It is only inside of a malignant cell that the enzyme is not present, and the cyanid is released… that destroys the cancerous cells in your body and you go unharmed. This article is propaganda because big pharma doesn’t want you to know about this, EAT THE FREAKING SEEDS!!!

  • Actually, chewing and swallowing an apple seed (or two) is not harmful…apple cider is made of *whole apples*, seeds and all.

  • “This is lucky for tobacco smokers…” Lucky tobacco smokers?

  • You’re going to need like 4oz/half a cup of apple seeds to kill you…as in you’re going to have to eat a few dozen in one sitting.

  • I found this article very interesting, and I am glad that I had a chance to read it (and the corrective comments), except for two things that I wish to ask the Editor to delete, because they are (1) unnecessary to retain, (2) offensive to mature adults and potentially harmful to youth, and (3) not funny, but instead sad, to people who are seeking wisdom. The first part to be deleted is in the body of the article: “Given that there is no effective chastity belt … [through] … pollinate it yourself (kinky).” The second part to be deleted is in one of the bonus facts: “If only their human concubine … [through] … (practice safe sex kids!)” When the above have been deleted, this comment should also be deleted.

  • I eat Apricot seeds every day, 7 every day for 25 yrs NO problem here. It has anti cancer property’s This article must have been sponsored by some Chemo company heaven forbid we heal our-self

  • Wait, I have an honest question here. What about various apple products that are made with whole apples? There’s apple cider, and even apple juice (when mass produced) is usually made by crushing the entire apple, seeds and all. Plus a myriad of food products and flavoring made from apple mash.

    Yet I’m not hearing about anyone getting poisoned by consuming this stuff. So why isn’t that happening?

  • Researching food for dogs when I saw apple seeds contain arsenic. Also have a mouse/pest problem so thought ground apple seeds might kill mice more ‘kindly’ than rat poison (a brutal way to die). Its this or another method I heard of, cement.

    • K.J.Joseprakash

      Details told about TAPIOCA leaves are true. I am an Indian of Kerala state. So many cows of us had been fell down after eating fresh tapioca leaves .The leaves are more toxic when given directly. It is more palatable for bovines if given dried and pricking off the tender bud.The best antidote for taking tapioca leaves is sodium-thiosulphate (Hypo) some villagers find human urine a best remedy for poisoning in cows by eating tapioca leaves . Pigs are not affected by tapioca leaves even fresh leaves can be given to pigs in plenty ,they tolerate the poisoning of ‘Hydro-cyanic acid’ !!!

    • Be Careful! I noticed u said researching food for dogs to come here, so i need to warn as I just had a scare this past week where my dog during our walk, came across and gulped up a dead mouse off the sidewalk in seconds, odd because she usually doesn’t give a dead critter a second thought – and collapsed on me….$300 later for a forced puke at the emergency vets because I don’t know if she couldn’t breath trying to swallow it whole or if it was in fact poisoned by a nearby household ridding its residence. either way scary stuff I couldn’t take a chance on so be careful for your dog(s) as the arsenic is also a rat poison that can harm/kill your pet. I too arrived here researching the seeds for a tumor remedy for my dog.

  • Does anyone know who discovered cyanide in apple seeds and/or in fruit seeds?? Can’t not find who, what, or how it was led to this discovery.

    Tried searching in vain on the internet, but did’t come to “fruition”.

  • This article is nonsense likely to scare the crap out of people for no reason. Dying from eating the seeds from apples, apricots, peaches or eating bitter almonds is so remote as to be negligible. I eat apple seeds every day. As a matter of fact, I cut the apple open to pick out the seeds so I can chew and taste them properly. The bitter taste has grown on me and I also take the time to smash open peach pits and apricot pits with a hammer just to get at the bitter seed inside and chew it down.

    I also believe it has anti-cancer properties as well as there are far too many people who have cured themselves of cancer using this method to be coincidence. The enzyme rhodanese breaks down cyanide into harmless compounds and is present in all healthy cells, but is not present in cancer cells where the cyanide is released which initiates apoptosis. This process is normally not functional in cancer cells, but is activated by cyanide.

    Anyway, this article is scaremongering nonsense. Do a little research before you put up something so irresponsible.

  • Just dont cook in apple seed oil otherwise all is ok …LoL

  • Actually the human has a better system for disease resistance than an apple tree and far more complex. All plants have some sort of system for disease and insect resistance. Nicotine, caffeine, tanin, cocaine are some of the chemicals for a plant resistance. These are static, the presence reduces predation. Humans have an active, responsive immune response. Making specific antigen antibodies, Killer T-cells actually go an inject cancer cells with H202 (hydrogen peroxide) and the cell disentegrates. The real question, why did the body’s immune system stop working. Things that suppress immunity, sugar, not enough sleep, poor nutrition, poor fruit and vegetable intake, stress, lack of activity, genetic… and far more complex than what was just listed. It is like 15 chapters (600-1000 pages depending on the class) of an anatomy and physiology class. Bud, RN

  • My husband has eaten 10 apricot kernels (well crushed) every day for the best part of 13 years. I read somewhere that 10 to 15 kernels is about half the fatal dose, so my husband should at least be very very sick. I wonder why he isn’t. He will be 76 this year.

  • Cassava roots can also be boiled to tenderness. That will inactivate the bad stuff and
    make them 100% safe to eat. We do that all the time or why do you think they are sold in stores ??
    Anyway, the best delicious way to eat them is, cut the raw roots in small pieces 3 inches long and remove the peel – the peel is thick, about 1/16 to (1/8 inch sometimes) – then boil them with salt until they are tender and breaking at the center. The salt to get it a little bit seasoned.
    Separate in those pieces and remove the center fibrous thingy.
    Heat the oil like you would to deep frying and just fry the cassava pieces to a golden brown.
    If not salty enough, now it;s the time to sprinkle more salt, black pepper or maybe cayenne pepper.
    Delicious stuff !!!!