Mucuna Toxicity
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Pat Cullinan, Jr.
Posted on: February 16, 2006

What can you tell us about the toxicity of mucuna?

Mucuna spp. have long been used as food in Africa. The seeds are treated to boiling in several changes of water in order to remove/decompose the toxic principles. In periods of drought, the natives are driven to drink the broth, leading to acute psychoses. At all events, the amount of seed consumed is not very great.

Mucuna remains a potentially problematic ingestant, though if used correctly can probably be of medical and nutritional benefit.

The International Development Research Centre, a Canadian Crown corporation, has a couple of articles on the subject, as follows:

Collaboration to increase the use of Mucuna in production systems in Benin

Preparation is critical, as the seed contains a toxic chemical, 3-(3,4-dihydroxyphenyl)-L-alanine (Levodopa, or L-Dopa), which can induce acute psychosis. Infante et al. (1990) reported an outbreak of this occurring among 200 people in Mozambique. On the other hand, Mucuna’s protein content is high (around 26%), and its quality is comparable to that of soybean (Ravindran and Ravindran 1988). Ghanaian farmers explained that grains were cracked and then boiled for 20-60 min and that the cooking water was thrown away before the seeds were ground up for the sauce or stew... Mucuna seeds are used in very small quantities (8-20 seeds per preparation)

The phytochemistry, toxicology, and food potential of velvetbean

In 1989, in Nampula, Mozambique, an outbreak of more than 200 cases of acute toxic psychosis was attributed to consumption of the seeds of M. pruriens (Infante et al. 1990). The seeds are usually detoxified by repeated boiling in water, which is discarded before further processing of the seed, but because of drought the people drank this water instead.

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