Apples can be a snack or a healthy ingredient, but is it dangerous to eat the seeds? Apples have five seed pockets, with a varying number of seeds in each pocket. Some people think apple seeds are poisonous, while others consider them healthy.
Most people avoid the pips, which have a bitter taste, but occasionally a person may eat one or a few by accident without bothering to spit them out. One can also drink juice containing pulverized seeds. This article explores scientific research on the safety and risks of eating apple seeds.
Are apple seeds poisonous?
Eating apple seeds is only dangerous if a person does it in large quantities. Apples contain lots of healthy compounds, including antioxidants, vitamins, and dietary fiber. Apple seeds, however, contain a plant compound called amygdalin, which can have a toxic effect.
Amygdalin is part of the chemical defenses of seeds. It is harmless when the seed is intact, but when a seed is chewed or otherwise damaged, amygdalin degrades into hydrogen cyanide. This substance is very toxic, even fatal in high doses. Amygdalin exists in relatively high amounts in the seeds of fruits of the Rosaceae family, which includes apples, almonds, apricots, peaches, and cherries.
People have used cyanide as a poison throughout history. It works by interfering with the oxygen supply to cells, and high doses can cause death within minutes.
Eating or drinking cyanogenic plant compounds can cause cyanide poisoning in humans. These compounds exist in apricot seeds, almonds, cassava and apple seeds.
Mild symptoms of cyanide poisoning may include:
Acute poisoning can lead to decreased consciousness, high blood pressure, paralysis and coma. In some cases, it is fatal. The exact amount needed to make a person sick depends on their body weight. Young children are at greater risk. For the toxic compounds in apple seeds to be lethal, the number of seeds depends on the person’s body weight, tolerance and the type of apple. The amount of amygdalin in an apple varies depending on the variety of apple and its growing environment.
It is important to keep in mind that while amygdalin is not fatal, smaller amounts can still make a person sick.
Is eating apple seeds dangerous?
Eating a few apple seeds is safe. However, eating or drinking large amounts of crushed or crushed seeds could be fatal.
According to a 2015 study, the amygdalin content of one gram of apple seeds ranges from 1 to 4 milligrams (mg), depending on the apple variety. However, the amount of cyanide derived from the pips is much lower. A lethal dose of hydrogen cyanide can be between 50 and 300 mg.
Apple seeds have the potential to release 0.6 mg of hydrogen cyanide per gram. This means a person would need to eat 83 to 500 apple seeds to develop acute cyanide poisoning. In other words, consuming cups of ground apple seeds could be fatal, or at least cause illness. On the other hand, eating the pips of a single apple would not pose a problem.
That said, researchers recommend avoiding eating the apple seeds and removing them before juicing due to their high amygdalin content. Other scientists confirm that the amygdalin content of apple seeds can be high and their consumption can be cause for concern.
Ingestion of whole apple seeds is unlikely to cause symptoms. The seed coating protects it from digestive enzymes and the seeds can pass through the digestive system undamaged. Still, it’s probably a good idea to remove the seeds before giving apples to young children or pets.
What about apple juice?
Apple juices and smoothies often contain crushed whole apples, including the core and seeds. As the apple seeds are crushed during processing, they can release cyanide, which remains in the juice.
However, when researchers studied the amount of amygdalin present in commercial brands of apple juice, they found very low amounts, ranging from:
0.01-0.04 mg per milliliter (ml) in pressed apple juice
0.001-0.007 mg per ml in shelf stable apple juice.
The study authors concluded that the amounts of amygdalin found in commercially available apple juice were unlikely to be harmful.
They do, however, recommend avoiding eating the apple seeds and removing them before juicing, due to the amygdalin content.
Apricot kernels pose risk of cyanide poisoning. (2016).
Bolarinwa, IF, et al. (2015). Determination of amygdalin in apple seeds, fresh apples and processed apple juices.
Graham, J., & Traylor, J. (2019). Cyanide toxicity.
He, XY, et al. (2020). Amygdalin — a pharmacological and toxicological review.
Skinner, RC, et al. (2018). A comprehensive analysis of the composition, health benefits, and safety of apple pomace.