A Point To Ponder - Ergot In Rye

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A Point To Ponder - Ergot In Rye

Postby Chuckwagon » Fri Sep 11, 2009 2:52 am

A Point To Ponder - Ergot In Rye - Far Out, Man!

It turns out that bleaching flour is not some money-making scheme or hoax invented by baking companies. During the late Middle Ages, many world cultures adopted white flour (mistakenly believing it was healthier than dark flour) when several diseases were virtually eliminated by bleaching and processing. Unknown to the masses of the time period, molds and fungi present in grains - especially ergot in rye - was to blame for much sickness and death! Bleaching wheat flour had refined it, eradicating the effects of poisonous molds.

In October 1692, Massachusetts’s citizens unhurriedly slayed an 80-year-old woman to death by “stoning” her in Salem’s town square over the period of two days. Accused of being a witch, she had failed to enter a plea in court. As trials ended, a hundred and forty-nine other people had been accused of crimes. Nineteen people were hanged while four others died in prison! What caused this cryptic mass hysterical behavior? Religious zealotry? Ignorance? Could it have been Encephalitis spread by mosquitoes, or perhaps Huntington’s Chorea?

Linda Caporael is a psychologist at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. She is convinced the culpability belongs to claviceps purpurea - ergot fungus found in rye grain. “What’s the big deal?” someone asked her. The “big deal” is simply this: Ergot fungus alkaloids include lysergic acid. You know… the stuff from which LSD is made! - the “far out” drug of choice of America’s seventy’s hallucinogenic hippies. Ergot affects multiple grains and grasses, but rye, the staple grain of the settling citizens of Salem, is particularly vulnerable to developing the fungus as it thrives in warm, damp, rainy environments. The initial signs of ergot poisoning, called “ergotism”, include gastrointestinal upset followed by burning and itching of the skin. Later, convulsions, hallucinations and psychosis are suffered - precisely the symptoms displayed by Salem’s citizenry. Outbreaks of ergotism are nothing new. “St. Anthony’s Fire”, as it was known in medieval times, poisoned entire villages of people and as late as 1951, ergot poisoning afflicted two hundred and fifty villagers of Pont-Saint-Esprit, France, where several died!

I suppose many people who make their own bread, as I do, shake their heads and shudder when they see others placing bleached “white bread” into their shopping baskets at a grocery store. I just have to have a little rye in mine. The fact remains, white flour is still used traditionally, and almost exclusively in many cultures throughout the modern world. I’m not sure about the UK, but in the United States, it still remains the preferred flour for bread making.
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Postby beardedwonder5 » Fri Sep 11, 2009 8:43 am

About twenty years ago, when he was at university, my son got a summer job at a local grain merchant's set-up. Silos, seed cleaning, drying and so forth. His job was at the "inwards" weighbridge, in the "lab" where they recorded weight, moisture content, visual weedseed contamination and so forth.

An excursion. All will become clear. My wife and I have for years been interested in foraging for wild mushrooms. Three or four books lying around the house. Poisonous fungi pointed out to kids. You get the picture. Back to subject.

After he got the hang of the job my son became more observant. "Hey, this guy's trailer!!! Look at this: ERGOT!" The boss had a look. "That's not too bad. The government sets a limit. We'll mix that with grain that isn't affected to get the lot below the limit."

The grain was wheat.
Last edited by beardedwonder5 on Fri Sep 11, 2009 9:01 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Mike D » Fri Sep 11, 2009 8:57 am

I saw a great documentary about 8 years back on BBC, I think it was "Horizon", or some such. It was just as Chuckwagon says. Very interesting too!

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Postby wheels » Fri Sep 11, 2009 2:00 pm

It's the first time I've heard this - It's amazing.

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Postby mitchamus » Wed Sep 16, 2009 2:48 am

thanks for posting Chuck! great info!

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Postby Nutczak » Sat Oct 31, 2009 4:24 pm

Thanks for the info Chuckwagon,

May I add that Ergot has been found in some packaged natural snack foods too, Stuff like grains , nuts & fruits roasted with a honey sweetener. I remember reading about a case of Ergot poisoning from an organic snack food manufacturer a few years back in the US.
I keep a few packages of dried fruit, nuts & grains in my truck for winter travel in case I ever get stranded, I joke around that I have my Ergot stash hidden in the center console.

There was also a red colored ink used for tattoo's that was derived from rye, it was occasionally found to have Ergot in it, and the person getting the tattoo could suffer the effects of it.
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Postby kmvet72 » Sat Dec 12, 2009 7:07 am

It also made for a good episode of the "X" files. Who says you can't learn from fiction :D

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Postby saucisson » Sat Dec 12, 2009 2:00 pm

So it did, though I'd completely forgotten about it until you reminded me, thanks...

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