Cherries are a delicious summertime fruit.
Members of the Prunus genus, they’re a type of drupe or stone fruit — a fruit whose seed is enclosed by a hard, stony endocarp or pit (1).
While you’re meant to spit out the pits when eating cherries, you may sometimes swallow a few on accident. Because the pits of these fruits are purported to have toxic properties, some people are concerned about their safety.
This article explains whether cherry pits are dangerous if you accidentally eat a few.
Cherries have a small, hardened pit that surrounds their seed, also called a kernel. The kernels of cherry pits and other stone fruits contain the chemical amygdalin (2).
Amygdalin is a cyanogenic glycoside — a chemical that your body converts into the toxic compound hydrogen cyanide (2,
Hydrogen cyanide interferes with oxygen transport, potentially damaging essential organs like your brain, heart, and lungs (
This is the reason why cherry pits are dangerous to eat. However, the extent of the potential harm depends upon the amount of cyanide you’re exposed to.
Cherry pits contain amygdalin, a compound that your body converts into hydrogen cyanide, making their consumption potentially dangerous.
When the cherry pit is chewed or bruised, the plant’s enzymes come into contact with the amygdalin inside the pit, leading to the formation of hydrogen cyanide (2, 5).
Cyanide toxicity in the human body may occur from 0.2–1.6 mg per pound (0.5–3.5 mg per kg) of body weight. That is the equivalent of 30–240 mg of cyanide for a person who weighs 150 pounds (68 kg) (2, 6).
A red cherry pit is estimated to have 3.9 mg of amygdalin per gram of fruit, while the black cherry has a slightly lower concentration at 2.7 mg per gram. Meanwhile, the Morello cherry pit harbors an astonishing 65 mg per gram (2).
These stone fruits can produce the equivalent of 0.01–1.1 mg of cyanide in your body, depending on the amount consumed. Eating just 3–4 pits of the Morello cherry or 7–9 pits of red or black cherries may lead to cyanide toxicity (2).
Chewing cherry pits releases a chemical called amygdalin, which your body converts into cyanide. Depending on the type, cherries may contain 3.9–65 mg of amygdalin per gram of fruit.
It’s not a cause for concern if you or your child accidentally swallows just one or two cherry pits.
Swallowing whole cherry pits doesn’t cause toxicity but may pose a choking hazard for young children and lead to colon obstruction (7, 8).
Yet, chewing and swallowing more than a few pits may be dangerous, especially for children.
Intoxication or poisoning from the ingestion of pits from cherries, apricots, and peaches has been reported among children. Symptoms of acute toxicity include headache, nausea, seizures, convulsions, and difficulty breathing (2, 6,
If you suspect your child has chewed and eaten several pits, keep an eye on them for adverse symptoms. If symptoms occur, contact 911 or call poison control at 1-800-222-1222.
Children should be taught to spit out the pits to avoid all associated risks.
Ingesting whole cherry pits is unlikely to be toxic. However, if you chew the pits, hydrogen cyanide is produced. Accidentally chewing and swallowing several pits may lead to symptoms like headaches, seizures, and difficulty breathing.
Compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have been identified and extracted from the kernels of cherry pits, though research on their safety and efficacy is ongoing (
Antioxidants are substances that may protect your body from disease by preventing cell damage (
Cherry fruit and its extracts have been shown to reduce uric acid levels and proposed as a treatment for gout, though the involvement of the cherry pits themselves is unclear (
In addition, cherry pits have several culinary uses, including extracting compounds from the kernels to form liqueur. Recipes don’t use the pit themselves but rather draw flavor from the remaining fruit clinging to the pits (16).
Check out these recipes for cherry pit syrup and cherry pit whipped cream for some interesting ideas.
Despite cherry pits being inedible, there may be safe ways to use them for culinary purposes.
Cherry pits contain varying amounts of amygdalin, which your body converts into cyanide. However, cyanide is only formed when the cherry pit is bruised or chewed.
Swallowing a small number of whole cherry pits is generally safe, but they pose a choking hazard and may obstruct the colon in sufficient amounts.
It’s always best practice to spit out the pits when you’re munching on cherries. Children should be taught to spit out the pits as well.