Gorizen Sap is Dangerous (brutal botany)

What’s a Gorizen?

The first page of Emolecipation has this: “He’d rather throw himself in the ocean than end up on another gorizen plantation. Gorizen. Now there was a corrupted fruit! One slip of the hand and its poison barbs could kill a man.”

And Scribes’ Descent describes it further: “Two concentric shells and poison sap between them, all protecting the fruit at the center.”

Gorizen may be fictional to the Scribeverse, but we have foods on Earth that feature poisonous defenses. Let’s look at a few.

Cashews (God bless you)

Photo of raw cashews

This may look like a photo of mushrooms, but they are, in fact cashews. That word always makes me think of someone sneezing. The bottom part is the seed–the part we’ve seen at the store. We think of it as a nut, but botanists classify it as a drupe, or a “stone fruit”. The top, yellow part is called the apple, which is also edible and sometimes used to flavor beverages.

The cashew nut armors itself in a shell laced with urushiol oil, the irritant found in poison ivy. To remove this, cashews are usually roasted and sold without the shell. (Roasting is necessary because some of the oil seeps into the nut.)

Because of this careful processing, cashews are more expensive than most other nuts. Today’s machines can crack the shells without breaking the nut, but this used to be done by hand, endangering workers.

After the shell comes the husk, which must be peeled off of each nut by hand. This takes skill, and an experienced worker can process only around 5.5lbs a day. These husks have tannins that can irritate the throat.

Other foods with urushiol are mangoes, pistachios, and ginkgo biloba. If this is starting to sound Plants vs Zombies, read on. There’s more…

Cassava and Friends

Photo of cassava roots

These roots have hydrogen cyanide. Yum. If not prepared properly, they can cause goiter, ataxia, partial paralysis, and even death. Sweet varieties of cassava have under 50mg/kg of hydrogen cyanide, but the bitter varieties can have 400 mg/kg, so the type matters.

Sweet cassava is made safe by peeling and cooking. The bitter kind, however, requires peeling, grating, prolonged soaking, and careful cooking.

Cassava isn’t alone. Raw bitter almonds have glycoside amygdalin. When eaten, it breaks down into moderately harmful levels of hydrogen cyanide, so avoid this type. Sweet almonds have about 1,000 times less amygdalin, making them safer to eat in large quantities. (Sweet almonds are the ones found in grocery stores. This cultivar of almond has had most of the amygdalin bred out of it.)

Other plants like lima beans, soy, spinach, and bamboo shoots also have trace amounts of hydrogen cyanide. So do the seeds and pits of fruits like apples, apricots, pears, plums, prunes, cherries, and peaches. Again, not enough to harm you, and those aren’t the parts you eat, anyway.





I hope I haven’t scared you away from the produce aisle. 😂 It seems nature has taught some food how to defend itself without martial arts–though if you catch your carrots doing katas, send me video footage! 

Gorizen, found only in the Scribeverse, is an extreme example of this culinary chemical warfare. It makes cashews and cassava look mild and subdued. But don’t worry–Earth has exotic fruits used in poison darts and an aggressive tree that wants to kill you–all of which I’ll save for another newsletter.

Have you found something in my books you’d like me to break down the science for? Reply to this email and let me know!

Writing update: So far, I’ve totally rewritten the first fifteen chapters of Scribes Emerge, Scribes Series book 3. I’m done judging most of my speech and debate tournaments for the year (at least until May), so I have more time to write and revise. If you see a giant plume of smoke rising from southeast Virginia in the next few months, that would be my brain cooking while I bend words into the right shapes.

See you next month,
Dylan West

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