Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

An Unfortunate and Lengthy Adventure in Misdiagnosis

Cheeky yams and oxalates

with 4 comments

Here in the UK, I’ve been watching “Ray Mear’s Wild Food” on BBC2 on Sunday nights. This is a series in which Mears goes out, meets a few natives, and spends his time trying to figure out what food Paleo (or Neo) man ate. Most of the series has been about foraging – perhaps an unintentional emphasis, but there’s really not much to hunting: man see, man kill, man eat… He’s tried spear fishing (he wasn’t very good at it), cooking eggs on a fire, eating goat with some Kalahari Bushmen, crocodile with some aborigines, and tonight he roasted a boar. Something I realised about roasting a whole boar is that when you start slicing, you’ll mostly be eating crackling and fat – not muscle meat. One other point is that when he has been with native groups, they have NOT hung their meat. The baby crocodile was killed when it was found, then taken home when gathering had finished and eaten with some yams. The goat was slaughtered immediately prior to being eaten.

One interesting thing I noted was that at no point did he try to cook or eat leafy greens! The emphasis was definitely on starch for energy. He’s tried gathering and processing berries twice – one resulted in a “highly nutritious” fruit pulp that tasted so disgusting it couldn’t be drunk, and the other time he made fruit leathers and proceeded to eat some that were three years old and “still good” (wonder if they gave him a headache). His copresenter gathered some herbs at one point, complaining that they were needed in order to give the “bland native diet” some flavour!

A couple of weeks ago Mears was with some Australian aborigines. On that day, their diet consisted of starchy water lily heads, a small crocodile(?), and a lot of yams. A sort of aboriginal Sunday lunch. He also did the whole widgety grub thing. There were two types of yams – regular yams, and “cheeky yams”. I don’t know how truly “native” in diet these aborigines really were. Most of them were elderly and looked in very poor shape – wasted limbs and large bellies. Apparently alcoholism is a real problem amongst the aboriginal communities, but this is besides the point.

Mears described how the cheeky yams were poisonous and needed processing before they were eaten. The aborigines put the yams into a fire, buried them, and baked them for about an hour. Then they used modified snail shells to grate the yams into woven baskets, which were then suspended on sticks in a running stream and left for 24 hours. At this point the poison had leached out and the yams were edible. I want to emphasise that this was not a soak or a ferment – it was necessary for running water to be used. At the time Mears didn’t care to mention what the poison was, but today he tried an experiment with a different wild root by processing it in the same way then having it tested to see whether it was safe to eat. The poison in common turned out to be oxalate. It seems native people knew about oxalate and knew how to process it out of their foods.


Written by alienrobotgirl

4 February, 2007 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Historical Diets

4 Responses

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  1. I watched that programme last night and noticed how he kept having to process the food to get rid of the salicylates and oxlates and general poisons. It seemed much simpler at the end when he simply roated a boar. I couldn’t help thinking that the hunter gatherers of the British Isles would have been much more efficient simply hunting rather than grinding up acorns, roasting them and soaking them in amesh bag to remove poisons. My favourite bit was when he was eating a service berry(?) but he said you should always spit out the seed since it contained cyanide!


    5 February, 2007 at 9:36 pm

  2. Have you heard of other instances where traditional groups processed out oxalates somehow, and if so was the methodology similar?As you already know, I’m a bit obsessed about finding all possible means to food tolerance, since a lot of kids with ASD are on extremely restrictive diets, often Low Oxalate in combination with SCD or GFCF…many thanks, again, as usual….Rene


    17 February, 2007 at 7:59 pm

  3. Hi ReneIt’s the first time I’ve heard of it. The way the programme portrayed it, it was an amazing new discovery they hadn’t documented before.I know what you mean about restrictive diets. It’s very easy to become trapped into the idea of cutting out more and more possibly harmful foods in combination with taking more and more vitamins.I just wish the failsafe diet was better known and understood in autism circles, since it has such a great track record in Australia.

    Alien Robot Girl

    20 February, 2007 at 12:34 pm

  4. […] It’s one of the repeat run of a series that was on last year that I mentioned with respect to native people removing the oxalates from foods before eating […]

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