Are apple seeds poisonous? What happens if you eat them?

Apples are one of the world’s most popular fruits.

They contain small, black seeds that are usually avoided because of their bitter taste, but people may occasionally eat them by accident or not bother to spit them out.

Many people believe apple seeds are poisonous, while others may consider them a healthy snack.

What’s the truth? This article reviews the scientific evidence.

Crushed or chewed apple seeds release cyanide

Green apple.

Apple seeds contain a plant compound known as amygdalin.

It is found in relatively high amounts in the seeds of fruits in the rose family, which includes apples, almonds, apricots, peaches and cherries (123).

Amygdalin is a part of the seeds’ chemical defenses. It is harmless when intact, but when the seeds are damaged, chewed or digested, amygdalin degrades into hydrogen cyanide. This is very poisonous and even lethal in high doses (45).

Cyanide has been used as a poison throughout history. It works by interfering with cells’ oxygen supplies, and may lead to death within minutes at a sufficiently high dose (67).

Summary: Apple seeds contain amygdalin, which is converted into cyanide when the seeds are chewed or crushed. Cyanide is highly poisonous and can be deadly in high doses.

How much cyanide can you tolerate?

Apple seeds.

Consuming 0.2-1.6 mg of cyanide for each pound of body weight (0.5-3.5 mg/kg) may lead to severe poisoning, causing a coma, paralysis, heart and lung failure or even death (8).

For a 180-pound (81 kg) adult, this equals 41-286 mg of cyanide.

Lower amounts of cyanide may cause various milder symptoms, such as headache, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, dizziness, weakness and confusion.

The exact amount needed to make you sick depends on your body weight. Young children are at a greater risk.

Summary: Small amounts of cyanide, ranging from 0.2-1.6 mg for every pound of body weight, cause acute poisoning and may even be deadly.

Do apple seeds release enough cyanide to make you sick?

The amygdalin content in one gram of apple seeds ranges from 1-4 mg, depending on the variety (910).

However, the amount of cyanide derived from apple seeds is much less.

One gram of finely crushed or chewed apple seeds may deliver up to 0.06-0.24 mg of cyanide (1112).

As a result, eating two cups of ground apple seeds might be fatal. At the very least, it could make you sick.

The exact lethal dose of apple seeds varies widely. It depends on body weight, individual tolerance and the type of apple. Keep in mind that much lower amounts might make you sick.

This table shows how many apple seeds you would need to eat to risk death, relative to your body weight.

Body weight (pounds) Body weight (kg) Apple seeds (grams) Apple seeds (number)
20 (toddler) 9 19-529 27-756
120 54 113-3,175 162-4,536
130 59 123-3,440 176-4,914
140 64 132-3,704 189-5,292
150 68 142-3,969 203-5,670
160 73 151-4,234 216-6,048
170 77 161-4,498 229-6,426
180 82 170-4,763 243-6,804
190 86 180-5,027 256-7,182
200 91 189-5,292 270-7,560

For example, 243-6,804 apple seeds would be needed to kill a 180-pound individual. To put this in perspective, a whole apple may contain anywhere from 0-20 seeds.

Additionally, swallowing whole apple seeds is unlikely to cause any symptoms.

The seed coat protects them from digestive enzymes, and they pass harmlessly through your digestive system.

Nevertheless, it’s probably a good idea to remove the seeds before giving apples to young children or pets.

Summary: Eating a few apple seeds is safe. However, large quantities of ground or crushed seeds (over 100 grams) are potentially fatal.

The bottom line

Apple peels and flesh are very healthy and pose no risks to your health.

However, chewed or crushed apple seeds release small amounts of cyanide, which is highly toxic.

Nevertheless, you would probably need to thoroughly chew and swallow over 150 seeds before you experienced any adverse symptoms.

So if you accidentally eat a few apple seeds, there is no need to worry.