Crimping Your Style

Fact: The crimp on a Cornish pasty can protect you from being poisoned.

This might sound like superstition or hearsay, but lets take a look back in history. Like us all the miners in Cornish tin mines needed lunch, but tupperware was less of a thing 50 years ago and no-one had time for carrying cutlery all day.

The problem was that those tin mines often contained significant levels of arsenic. Arsenic (a heavy metal element) is toxic to humans in high concentrations – it interacts with over 200 enzymes throughout your body and disrupts their function, producing a range of symptoms. For example, by interfering with enzymes that help repair damaged DNA arsenic increases your risk of cancer. At very high levels arsenic poisoning can induce a coma and even cause death. In short, it is definitely to be avoided.

 

Arsenic is relatively abundant in rocks, so miners’ hands would often become contaminated with arsenic from the rock face during the working day. With nowhere to wash their hands down in those tin mines, when they ate lunch this would be transferred onto their food and result in the ingestion of arsenic leading to chronic poisoning over the course of years. And so the pasty crimp was created. Miners could hold the crimp while eating the rest of the pasty, keeping their food clean before throwing away the arsenic-ridden handle.

This simple strip of pastry had a huge impact on the health of Cornish miners over the years, going to show that sometimes the simplest solutions are the most elegant. Thank god these days we can eat the crimp (its the best bit), just wash your hands first!

This post is dedicated to my Cornish grandparents (Arnold, Betty and Sonya) for introducing me to the incredible world of all things Cornish.

‘Another one  of Mr Shaunak’s Little Bites of Science’
Image under creative commons license. 

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