Why Do People Love Eating Dangerous Foods?

Feel The Burn (left to right): Fugu at a Japanese restaurant, an attempt at the cinnamon challenge, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion — currently the world's hottest pepper.

Physical and emotional discomfort. Hospitalization. Asphyxiation that can lead to death. No, we're not talking about the symptoms of some mysterious foodborne illness here, but rather the potential consequences of voluntarily eating some common, and often popular, foods. With these possible side effects widely documented, what is it exactly that causes people to not only include these foods in their diets but to go out of their ways to find them? Let's take a look at some of the most dangerous foods thrill-seekers can't stay away from.

A spoonful of cinnamon

Does a spoonful of cinnamon a day keep the doctor away? Not exactly. In fact, you will probably need a doctor on call. A recent article in The Atlantic details how a medical journal looked into the "cinnamon challenge," which essentially involves a person trying to swallow a spoonful of dry cinnamon. The aftermath almost always includes coughing, vomiting and can even lead to collapsed lungs. Yet Pediatrics reports that there are currently some 51,000 videos on YouTube of individuals attempting the challenge. What gives? In this case, we hypothesize that the majority of people actually believe that the challenge is attainable, stemming from a familiarity with the spice, or are simply looking to impress family and friends.

Hot chilies

The Wall Street Journal wrote last month about the ongoing race to grow the world's hottest pepper. The article focuses on the public's increasing awareness of items such as the habanero and chipotle peppers (one is now a Doritos flavor and the other a fast-food chain, the Journal points out). The piece delves into the competitive nature of consuming ridiculously hot peppers, mentioning recent individuals dethroning each other by eating items measuring 1.464 million Scoville Units (that's the "standard measure of heat"). To give you an idea of just what we're talking about here, that's over 225 times as hot as your standard jalapeño. Now, there are even restaurants serving dishes that include waiver forms, and some diners end up in hospitals after challenging their spice tolerance. Why? Publicity stunts, fame, livin' on the edge. (Related: The Main Spectacle At the NYC Hot Sauce Expo Was (Awesomely) Terrifying.)

Fugu (puffer fish)

Widely recognized as the world's most dangerous food, blowfish is often referenced in popular culture (hey there, Charlie's Angels). Each year, there are approximately 35 to 65 victims hospitalized from eating fugu in Japan — where it has long been considered a delicacy — with a 6.8% fatality rate. The poison, tetrododoxin, is found in the skin, skeleton, ovaries, intestines and liver of the fish, and chefs hoping to serve the dish must go through years of rigorous training for years just to gain certification allowing them to prepare it. Articles note, however, that some people prefer to eat the fish with juuuuuust a little bit of toxin in it to experience a tingling sensation. We're not even sure where to begin on this one, frankly. The ultimate bragging rights? A strong death wish? Yeah, we give up.

Ever attempt the cinnamon challenge? Fan of scorching hot chilies? Planning to travel to Japan to nosh on some puffer fish? Let us know in the comments.

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