Parsnip safety

Back in 1981, a news item reported an unquantified toxicological risk associated with eating parsnips. See:
Study finds parsnips contain carcinogen
(Why “particle physics”, I can’t readily imagine.) There didn’t seem to be any cause for alarm, but has a more complete study been done and published?


Damn, the source was the Calgary Herald - I live in Calgary and have enjoyed parsnips for years and years. Can’t say I have seen any adverse reactions; unless of course you count seven extra toes and a really weird growth of a second head from my arm pit.

Seriously though, I was raised with eating parsnips as a common veggie on the dinner table and so too were many in other European communities.

Sound to me like another of those studies where folks have too much time and pull data from the nether regions.

The chemicals they’re talking about are furanocoumarins, varieties of which are found in other umbelliferous vegetables such as parsley, celery, even carrots.
Chemicals in this group are responsible for the acute photosensitivity that happens when people handle giant hogweed - they are known to be toxic to mammals, but I’ve always understood the dose to be well below danger levels for normal diets - this plant family includes some of the oldest vegetables in cultivation - I guess that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not slowly killing us, but it seems surprising.

A lot of plants - virtually all them, in fact - manufacture toxins that, in large amounts, would make you very sick but are harmless in the amounts found in a normal diet. After all, we evolved eating them and we have a liver and kidneys to detoxify stuff.

It’s TOXIC!!*

  • If you consume your own body weight daily.

I suppose the worry with carcinogens is a bit different though - it doesn’t have to be concentrated enough to kill you outright, just enough to make a few cells turn nasty - and then for you to be unlucky enough for it to pass unnoticed by your immune system. Long-term, low-level exposure could concievably do that, but it’s obviously not a huge risk, even so.

It’s not going to put me off eating parsnips.