Mochi Causes 2 Deaths & Lands 15 in the Hospital. Is This Sweet Treat Really That Dangerous?

Who knew that mochi — the slightly sweet and chewy rice cake confection from Japan — could be so dangerous?

According to the Tokyo Fire Department, the popular New Year’s candy is responsible for the deaths of two men in 2013 — both choked on the gummy confection. 15 other men and women in the area were hospitalized because of mochi.

As Asian news site Rocket News 24 points out, many of those who have problems with the sticky treat are older — of the 2013 New Year’s choking non-fatalities, one victim was in their 90’s, eight in their 80’s, three in their 70’s, and three in their 60’s.

But is mochi really that risky to eat? Rocket News 24 suggests that if you’re ever celebrating the new year in Japan, you might want to skip the traditional (and very popular) sweet. “It’s not really that good,” reporter Master Blaster writes, “and if you’re the type who inhales their food, it could prove fatal. Have some kamaboko (fish cake/gummy) instead.”

And while it’s really sad that mochi is a huge choking hazard, we’re not so sure that you should shun mochi altogether. Really?! Have savory fish cake instead of pleasantly sweet and chewy mochi — on New Year’s Day in Japan?

As an avid mochi lover, I’m not convinced. Although mochi might seem like a scary food to eat, it really isn’t all that difficult to consume — once you get used to it. It’s just as easy to choke on mochi as it is to choke on any other candy or food. Should we skip all of our favorite confections for fear of choking? Give up tapioca milk tea? Stop chewing gum? No, it just seems that one should instead a) be careful and b) learn the Heimlich maneuver if they’re really that worried about this traditional Japanese treat.

What do you think?

H/T: Rocket News 24 + PicThx: Simply Mochi

By Jennifer Lai

At the ripe age of three, Jennifer Lai sampled dishes as diverse as foie gras, jellyfish, and chicken feet. She was born Canadian, hails from Los Angeles, and lived in Berkeley and Chicago before moving to New York, where she now resides and writes. She spends at least one night a week compulsively roasting vegetables and re-watching episodes of Good Eats -- sometimes at the same time.

9 replies on “Mochi Causes 2 Deaths & Lands 15 in the Hospital. Is This Sweet Treat Really That Dangerous?”

I’ve lived in Japan for 6 years and I’ve eaten plenty of mochi year-round. It is not only eaten as a sweet for New Years, but also in soups (ozoni) and with savory sauces (mitarashi dango). The danger in it is that one must–yes–take small bites and chew thoroughly. This is sometimes difficult for older people with dentures, or very young children who don’t yet have all their teeth or enough experience eating chewy foods. For everyone else however, mochi is a delicious treat that should not be missed!

So far, I’m really only a fan of the ice cream version, but I can’t imagine anyone dying from eating it! Makes you wonder how many people die eating marshmallows??? As for it mostly affecting older people – the implication being fewer teeth, dentures, etc. I would think it’s one of the easiest things to “gum.” Very odd … and no, I won’t be giving it up anytime soon!!

It’s not likely that it is the confectionery version that people are choking on. The regular version is a dense rice cake that can be much harder to chew. No need to worry about choking on the confection version (like the kind with ice cream or sweet beans inside) because that is soft and pliable. The kind that you cook with is much more firm and chewy.

See the linked image for what the kind of mochi that they are talking about looks like –

I agree with the “dentures” comment. I wear dentures and there are a number of foods I had to give up because I just can’t chew them thoroughly any more. Gummi candy is one. (Damn.)

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