Random Food Fact #1

Ergot on wheat spike

Ergot on wheat spike (Photo credit: CIMMYT)

On days like these when it is beautiful out and I don’t want to be tethered to a computer, I would like to offer up some random food facts as blog “filler” when I am too busy or lazy to write. So today falls into the latter category and I offer you this tidbit.

Did you know part of the French Revolution was most likely caused by moldy bread? The French consumed a particularly dangerous fungus called ergot which had infected their wheat and rye crops and it caused a great proportion of the poor population to go slightly nuts. Here’s what Wikipedia says:  “The neurotropic activities of the ergot alkaloids may also cause hallucinations and attendant irrational behaviour, convulsions, and even death. Other symptoms include strong uterine contractions, nausea, seizures, and unconsciousness.”

This infection helped fuel what is known as the Great Fear which occurred at the beginning of the revolution from July 19 – August 3, 1789. Here’s what Wikipedia also says: “Historian Mary K. Matossian argued that one of the causes of the Great Fear was consumption of ergot, a hallucinogenic fungus. In years of good harvests, wheat with ergot was thrown away, but when the harvest was poor, the peasants could not afford to be so choosy.”

So there you have it. Bread can make you nuts. The end. Just joking, but beware of ergot poisoning nonetheless.

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2 thoughts on “Random Food Fact #1

  1. Ergot alkaloids also form the basis and origin of LSD and numerous medicines. I don’t know if they still do, but way back when I studied these things there was a compound called ergotamine for use in obstetrics, i.e. induction of child birth. Really cool family of chemicals.

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