The following is a list of some foods and beverages that have been banned either because the particular species is endangered or because, if ingested, they can seriously threaten the health, safety, and well-being of the consumer.
Japanese Puffer Fish
Also known as blowfish, these creatures are so named for their ability to inflate themselves to several times their normal size by swallowing water or air when threatened.
Although the eyes and internal organs of most puffer fish are highly toxic, the meat is considered a delicacy in Japan and Korea. Still, nearly 60 percent of humans who ingest this fish die from tetrodotoxin, a powerful neurotoxin that damages or destroys nerve tissue. Humans need only ingest a few milligrams of this toxin for a fatal reaction to occur.
Most puffer fish poisoning is the result of accidental consumption of other foods that are tainted with the puffer fish toxin rather than from the ingestion of puffer fish itself. Symptoms include rapid numbness and tingling of lips and mouth, which are generally resolved within hours to days if treated promptly.
The exact origin of absinthe is unknown, but this strong alcoholic liqueur was probably first commercially produced around 1797. It takes its name from one of its ingredients, Artemisia absinthium, which is the botanical name for the bitter herb known as wormwood.
Green in color due to the presence of chlorophyll, it became an immensely popular drink in France by the 1850s. Said to induce creativity, produce hallucinations, and act as an aphrodisiac, the bohemian lifestyle quickly embraced it, and absinthe soon became known as la fee verte (the green fairy). But in July 1912, the Department of Agriculture banned absinthe in America for its "harmful neurological effects," and France followed in 1915. Although absinthe is now legal in many jurisdictions, it's still banned in some places around the world.
Casu Marzu Maggot Cheese
Casu marzu, which means "rotting cheese" in Sardinian, is not just an aged and very smelly cheese, it is an illegal commodity in many places. Casu marzu is a runny white cheese made by injecting Pecorino Sardo cheese with cheese-eating larvae that measure about one-half inch long.
Tradition calls for this cheese to be eaten with the maggots running through it. Sardinians claim these critters make the cheese creamier and that it's absolutely delicious. This cheese is widely, but not openly, eaten in Sardinia, even though the ban on it is only enforced sporadically.
Now recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a potential carcinogen, sassafras is the dried root bark of the sassafras tree native to eastern North America. Throughout history, sassafras has been used for making tea, as a fragrance for soap, a painkiller, an insect repellent, and a seasoning and thickener for many Creole soups and stews.
But the best-known use of sassafras lies in the creation of root beer, which owes its characteristic flavor to sassafras extract. In 1960, the FDA banned the ingredient saffrole -- found in sassafras oil -- for use as an additive because in several experiments massive doses of sassafras oil were found to induce liver cancer in rats. It should come as no surprise that chemicals and artificial flavors are used to flavor root beer today.
Foie gras, which literally means "fatty liver," is what actor Roger Moore calls a "delicacy of despair." When Moore discovered how geese were tortured to create the hors d'oeuvre, he was so appalled that he teamed up with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and APRL (Animal Protection and Rescue League) to educate the public.
In order to create foie gras, ducks and geese are painfully force-fed up to four pounds of food a day by cramming it down their throats through metal pipes until, according to Moore, "they develop a disease that causes their livers to enlarge up to ten times their normal size!"
Investigations into foie gras farms have revealed such horrible, unabashed cruelty to animals that the dish has been banned in many countries and many parts of the United States.
In 1980, New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme publicized his recipe for blackened redfish, which is still very popular today. The recipe was so popular that it sparked a blackened redfish craze in the 1980s, which so severely threatened the redfish stock that the Commerce Department had to step in and close down fisheries in July 1986.
In Florida, strict conservation measures were enforced for two years, and to this day, the state requires that anglers keep only one redfish per day and release any that do not fall into the 18- to 27-inch limit, handling their catch as little as possible to assure that the fish survives upon release.
In the same cruel fashion as foie gras, this tiny bird has little to sing about, as historically it was horribly tortured before being eaten as a gastronomic treat by the aristocracy of France.
Its fate was often to be captured, have its eyes poked out, and be put in a small cage, then force-fed until it grew to four times its normal size. Next the poor bird would be drowned in brandy, roasted, and eaten whole.
Now considered a protected species in France, the ortolan is also in decline in several other European countries. Nevertheless, hunters still kill about 50,000 birds per year even though it is illegal to sell them.
Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen