Frog legs are a delicacy in many restaurants worldwide and some exotic meat sellers have reported increased demand for toads. It may come as a surprise since toads are generally seen as gross, with toxic skin, and overall not fit for human consumption.
Toads are considered toxic and, therefore, not safe to eat. Toads skin contains toxic secretions and their ingestion can cause serious and sometimes fatal reactions. However, toads are consumed in parts of Asia and Australia and can be reasonably safe if correctly prepared.
Toads are not safe to eat in most cases but are safely consumed in some parts of Asia if correctly prepared. Since Cane Toads are highly invasive in Australia, some local restaurants are looking to turn them into a delicacy to control the population. In dire situations, some survivalists have turned to eat toads when nothing else is available. But overall, eating toads is high-risk.
I’ll walk you through the risks of eating toads and ways people prepare them to help you make an informed decision. But keep in mind that if you eat toads, it’s at your own risk.
Why is it Generally Not Safe to Eat Toads?
Eating toads is not recommended since they can secrete a toxic substance. Depending on the species and quantity of toxins ingested, toads can cause severe reactions and death. Some toad species are also legally protected and possessing the wrong type of toad can lead to legal issues.
Two men in Thailand died after consuming grilled toad and the children that ate the chicken prepared next to it also fell ill. A farmer from China contracted a sparganum infection from eating live tadpoles that cost him $12k in medical fees and almost took his life. Consuming live or dead amphibians can be a dangerous undertaking if you do not know what you are doing.
All toads have glands at the back of their eyes that secrete different toxins depending on the species. Eating a toad can expose you to these lethal substances, which may cause serious reactions such as irregular heartbeat, seizures, vomiting, convulsions, paralysis, and even death.
However, not all toads are highly toxic to humans. This is because toads secrete different toxins depending on the species which can cause more or less severe reactions in humans. Yet Cane Toads have poisonous glands all over their bodies that produce Bufotenine which, whether cooked or taken in raw, is toxic. At certain levels of concentration of Bufotenine can be fatal.
You also need to be sure of the species you are consuming since cooking the wrong type of toad can lead to legal issues. The Colorado River Toad is a legally protected species and having this species in your possession can lead to arrest. This toad’s toxins contain 5MeO-DMT and their population is in decline due to the illegal drug trade (CTNF).
Even if you find an edible species you can legally capture, and the know-how to prepare them, toads come in all shapes and sizes. If you only have access to small toads, you will need to prepare much more of them to have a decent meal. This leads to more risk of not preparing them correctly and getting sick.
Yet toads are safely consumed by some Asians, Australians, and survivalists. Let’s have a closer look at the risks of consuming toads before diving into how to safely consume them if you really have no other options.
How Do People Prepare Toads?
Most chefs choose to freeze toads at the time of death so that their toxins are not released from their skin and cross-contaminate the meat. This helps reduce the chances of toxins being spread all over the body during preparation.
To prepare a toad, you must follow a due procedure to minimize toxins spreading through the body. What’s more, toads, just like any other amphibians, are known to carry bacteria on their skin, including salmonella. So it’s very important to avoid cross-contamination when preparing these amphibians as a meal. Once frozen solid, the toad can be washed and defrosted. Then the skin is then removed.
Humans are not the only ones who are very careful not to consume toad skin. Otters reportedly skin toads before eating them. They turn toads inside out, quite literally, before eating them to avoid their lethal skin.
Black kites and snakes are also known to have such brutal behavior towards toads. They flip the toads over and peck them until they get to poison-free inner flesh of the tongue, thighs, and intestines. Yet toads are highly poisons to domesticated pets including cats and dogs because they do not know how to eat them.
When prepared correctly to avoid intoxication, people generally consume toad leg meat only, or toad leg meat, and part of the meat on the back of the toad. The rest of the body, including the skin, is not fit for human consumption.
Like frog legs, toad legs can be prepared and served fried, boiled, steamed, sautéed, grilled, smoked, in a clay pot, in lotus leaves, as porridge, or in an Asian-infused salad. Toads are commonly consumed in different parts of the world, generally outside of the United States, unless for survival purposes.
Where Do People Eat Toads?
Toads are consumed in parts of Asia (China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia), Australia, and in some places in the USA for survival purposes. Preparing toad correctly to avoid intoxication demands certain skills that not everyone possesses.
Some people consider common toads safe to eat. Toads are not an uncommon meal in parts of China, notably among the Guan Dong peoples. In Guangxi Zhuang Region and Hunan Province, common toads are bred and raised primarily for food. These toads are larger in size compared to toads in the wild. Yet safely preparing toad requires skills that only a few people possess.
Cane Toads are an invasive species in Australia where they were introduced in 1935 to control beetles that caused crop suffocation. In order to control the population of Cane Toads that has become problematic, Australian restaurant owners are considering serving Cane Toads as meals.
Some Australian restaurants are considering serving Cane Toad burgers to control the invasive species and provide a healthy food choice for their local environment. There is a large Asian community in Australia that would not mind eating toads (CTNF).
Toad meat is considered a healthy protein in certain parts of the world where access to other proteins is more scarce. Toad legs are said to be high in omega 3 and have anti-inflammatory properties. Yet, there are still safer alternatives to toads, notably frog legs.
Is it Safe to Eat Toads?
Consuming toad toxins or incorrectly prepared toads can lead to paralysis, convulsions, vomiting, nausea, and death depending on the species and quantity ingested. Eating raw toads can lead to sparganum infection, salmonella, viral or bacterial infections, and death.
If you are thinking about eating toads for survival purposes, search out less risky protein sources before turning to this one. Nuts, beans, and even American Bullfrog legs are safer sources of protein compared to toads. Preparing toad incorrectly can lead to a very high medical bill, or losing your life.
Eating a toad comes down to personal choice. Many toad species have Bufotenin that will make you sick if consumed. If you choose to eat a toad, do so, knowing the risks involved. It also helps to go to a reputable exotic meat restaurant that has experts who know how to properly prepare a toad to minimize the chances of poisoning.
Apart from humans, toads are preyed upon by water rats, otters, snakes, black kites, and crows. All these animals know that a toad’s skin is poisonous and have developed ways to get rid of the skin and get to the inner safe and meaty parts. Crows, for instance, simply flip toads to expose their underbellies that are non-toxic.
Learn more about eating frog legs on our blog:
- Can You Eat Frogs?
- Where Can You Buy Frog Legs?
- What do Frogs Legs Taste Like?
- 5 Types of Frogs You Can Eat
- Frogging, Frog Hunting & Gigging: Everything There is to Know
Common Questions About Eating Toads
Is it safe to eat toads? Consuming toads is generally not safe since, when incorrectly prepared, consuming toads can lead to paralysis, convulsions, vomiting, and death depending on the species and quantity ingested. Eating raw toads can lead to sparganum infection, salmonella, viral or bacterial infections, and death.
What do toads taste like? As a general rule, toad legs have a mild chicken-fish flavour. Toad legs generally take on the flavour of the spices and sauces that are used in their preparation and tend to taste more like chicken when grilled or boiled, but more like fish when deep fried, or sautéed.
Can you get sick from eating a toad? Consuming incorrectly prepared toads can generally make you very sick possibly leading to paralysis, convulsions, vomiting, and death depending on the species and quantity ingested. Eating raw toads can lead to sparganum infection, salmonella, viral or bacterial infections, and death.
Cui J, Wang Y, Zhang X, et al. A neglected risk for sparganosis: eating live tadpoles in central China. Infect Dis Poverty. 2017;6(1):58. Published 2017 May 4. doi:10.1186/s40249-017-0265-7
ABC Radio Darwin, Eating cane toads a win-win solution for all, says academic
Bangkok Post, Avoid grilled toad, if you don’t already, 2016