If you crack open a peach or apricot pit, you’ll find something that looks like an almond. It’s not an almond. It’s the seed. Please don’t eat it.
Why? In addition to being a choking hazard, it contains a potentially toxic substance.
Are fruit seeds toxic?
Yes – specifically seeds from apples, apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, watermelon, and plums. They contain a molecule called amygdalin.
When eaten, amygdalin breaks down and releases cyanide as a byproduct. In large enough doses, cyanide can be deadly. And even smaller amounts can still make one sick. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it takes 1 to 2 milligrams of cyanide per kilogram of body weight to prove fatal.
But the conversion of amygdalin to cyanide isn’t one-to-one. This means that if a seed contains 5 grams of amygdalin, it won’t produce 5 grams of cyanide.
Here’s the amount of amygdalin in some pits, according to a study published in the journal Food Chemistry in 2014:
- Apricot: 14 milligrams amygdalin per gram of fruit
- Peach: 6.8 mg / g
- Plum: 4 – 17.5 mg / g (depending on variety)
- Apple seeds: 3 mg / g
Can I die from cyanide poisoning after consuming fruit seeds?
So how many seeds can you safely consume before it becomes dangerous? That’s tricky.
First, you shouldn’t worry about whole seeds. The amygdalin doesn’t release cyanide unless the seed is crushed up and swallowed.
So, if you’re a cherry fiend and can swallow them whole, pit and all, Bailey says there’s no danger in that, and it’ll just come out the other end.
If they’re cracked, though, which you can’t accomplish with your teeth alone (you might crack a tooth in the process, so don’t try it), ingesting the byproduct could potentially kill you.
“The dose makes the poison,” E. Murl Bailey tells Inverse. Bailey is a veterinary toxicology professor at Texas A&M University. He adds that eating a certain amount of crushed-up pits or seeds could make a child sick, but not an adult because their body weight is less.
Estimates on the number of crushed pits you would have to ingest to induce poisoning varies. The European Food Safety Commission estimates that eating three tiny apricot seeds, or even half of a large one, could pose a risk for children. That’s why it’s important to make sure that kids from an early age know not to eat it. Consuming about seven cherry pits is where risk emerges.
So if you are making, say, a cherry smoothie, be careful not to add the pits. (Some blenders even note this in their instruction manuals.)
Is the fruit flesh safe?
Yes, the amygdalin stays in the seeds.
If you do come into contact with worrisome amounts of cyanide, call poison control. Cyanide poisoning can cause nausea, fever, headaches, lethargy, nervousness, muscle aches and pain, and falling blood pressure.
Large amounts of cyanide are fast-acting and can kill someone, Bailey estimates, within five to 10 minutes.
So, if you are a stone fruit fanatic, don’t be scared of ingesting a whole seed or two. Just make sure you aren’t adding those seeds or pits to your morning smoothie.