The topic of cyanide is not often associated with food consumption, but we have received questions from readers, so the following is an effort to pull together various sources for those interested in learning more. This is not common dinner table conversation material, but if you are interested in this topic, we hope that you will find this helpful.
Saskatoons contain cyanogenic glycosides (mostly in the seeds), which can become cyanide. Saskatoons have this in common with a variety of other popular fruits such as apples, cherries, apricots, peaches and plums, as well as lima beans, spinach, soy, barley, flaxseed, cassava, bamboo shoots and almonds. As a non-scientist, the big question in my mind is whether it is present at a harmful level. Many people who have been eating saskatoons for a life time show little concern. Whether their viewpoint is based on knowledge or ignorance is, I suppose, the core question.
Cyanide gas also exists in cigarette smoke, the manufacture and burning of plastics, and the film development process. We are not aware of any case where these processes have ever resulted in cyanide-based illness, nor do we encourage the general public to experiment with these situations. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides some material at http://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/cyanide/basics/facts.asp. This site shares a great deal of content with the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry and the National Terror Alert Response Center.
Processed forms of cyanide have been used as deadly poisons at various times in world history. While those consequences should not be ignored or whitewashed, they do not represent cases of ‘accidental’ poisoning. It is true that many common substances, when processed and/or concentrated and/or consumed in vast quantities, can kill, including water.
We do not have a nutritionist on staff here, so cannot provide our own authoritative answer regarding the risks involved in eating saskatoons, but others have addressed this question in the past, and we list the sources we know about in this article.
It would appear that the way the cells in the body metabolize cyanide is key. Some sources look to cyanide as a cancer killer, as does this article: http://www.naturalnews.com/035554_laetrile_cancer_cure_cyanide.html Others say that the healthy cells in the body have little to no trouble cleansing out the cyanide consumed in a ‘normal’ daily diet.
To date, we are not aware of any otherwise healthy person becoming sick from saskatoons, or apples, or cherries (or any of the other foods listed above), because of naturally occurring cyanide, when they were eating a near normal quantity in their diet.
We continue to look for information on this question, and welcome your data-based feedback.