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Cooking With Poison in Japan

The native people of Amami Ōshima, a remote Japanese island, harvest and eat cycad—a plant that in its rare form can be deadly because it’s packed with poison. Over the years, the islanders have developed a way to remove the toxins and now use the cycad plant to make everything from noodles to mochi. But why do they bother going through the process at all? During U.S. occupation of Japan after World War II, the people of Amami had no access to the mainland and were struck by famine as resources dwindled. The only staple they had on the island was the cycad—so, out of necessity, they had to discover ways of removing the poison to make the plant safe for consumption. Today, the practice of cooking with cycad lives on as a treasured tradition—a way for the people of Amami to never forget their history and honor the ancestors that came before them.

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