spitting cherry pits
PHOTOGRAPH BY SCOTT BARBOUR/STRINGER/GETTY

Are Stone Fruit Seeds Poisonous?

While some eat and even cook with the pits of peaches, cherries, and plums, others consider them inedible, even toxic—after all, they contain arsenic, right? We did some digging to set the record straight.

September 30, 2015

Homesteaders don’t like to waste a thing in the kitchen, including cherry pits, which can be roasted and crushed into a delicious and unusual ice cream topping. (Check out the recipe!) But to many, there’s concern over safety: Don’t cherry pits contain cyanide? Or is cyanide in fruit pits an old wive’s tale?

Related: 8 Homesteader Recipes That Make The Most Of Food Scraps

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The seeds (also known as pits or kernels) of stone fruits, such as apricots, cherries, plums, and peaches, do contain a compound called amygdalin, which breaks down into hydrogen cyanide when ingested. And, yes, hydrogen cyanide is definitely a poison.

But you can relax: The recipe calls for the seeds to be roasted. According to The Food Safety Hazard Guidebook, hydrogen cyanide is not a heat-stable substance and does not survive cooking. It may also help to consider that stone fruit seeds are just some of many common edibles that contain similar compounds when raw. Cassava (tapioca), lima beans, butter beans, sorghum, macadamia nuts, and flaxseed also contain significant amounts of cyanide but are safely eaten after appropriately processed: crushing, grinding, grating, soaking, fermenting, and drying all help make the items edible. 

Related: 8 Weeds You Can Eat

What about eating stone fruit seeds raw? The National Institute of Health’s database on toxic substances says a 150-pound human can safely consume 703 miligrams of hydrogen cyanide per day before beginning to suffer any ill effects. According to scientific analyses, raw apricot seeds contain an average of about 432 miligrams of hydrogen cyanide per ounce (about 48 seeds). Thirty raw peach seeds also comes to an ounce and contain around 204 miligrams of hydrogen cyanide. And 200 raw cherry seeds, also an ounce, contain a relatively low 117 miligrams of the substance.

It would take considerably more to get seriously ill. So even if you forgot to roast the cherry seeds in the recipe and used 100 (far more than the 2 tablespoons it calls for), you’d still be well below what the National Institute of Health considers safe.

So go ahead and enjoy as many of them as you like roasted and sprinkled over your ice cream, cooked into your peach preserves, or however you think tastes best. You can even eat a few right out of the pit.