Is mochi dangerous to eat?

Mochi is a Japanese sticky rice dough and is symbolic of good fortune during the new year (via Taste of Home). The sticky dough has been around since 794 A.D. but has become super trendy in the United States over past year or two. A Japanese-American bakery turned the traditional Japanese mochi treat into a new type of fusion food — flattened sheets that are then wrapped around perfectly formed scoops of ice cream, creating what looks like colorful snowballs. The mochi dough makes this ice cream treat a little chewy, but definitely tasty. These delicate desserts are so popular they've made their way into their own freezer at Whole Foods. You can find mochi ice cream in traditional American flavors like chocolate and vanilla, as well as some seemingly more adventurous like green tea and black sesame.

Additionally, mochi can also be used for savory dishes, one of the most popular being a vegetable soup called ozouni where it is grilled and boiled (via Hisgo). Cooking these already sticky rice balls in broth can make them even stickier, but even more flavorful and delicious. This is also a popular dish to eat to celebrate the new year that can satiate any appetite.

But can mochi be dangerous to eat?  

The dangers of eating mochi

According to Culture Trip, mochi injuries or deaths are generally caused by choking or suffocation. Every year, the Japanese authorities issue a warning about consuming mochi, particularly for young children and the elderly who are more likely to fall victim to these mochi hazards. The site notes that during the 2018 New Year holiday season alone, there were two mochi-related deaths, seven others in serious condition, and 15 hospitalizations. Back in 2001, the BBC reported about a 70-year-old Japanese man who got a mochi cake in his throat and his daughter used a vacuum nozzle to suck out the sticky rice bun out of his windpipe. The report went out to say that the Japanese health authorities do not recommend using a vacuum to dislodge objects from choking victims, but doing so did save her father's life. 

If you are going to eat mochi, the Japanese recommend taking small bits and chewing the already chewy buns thoroughly before swallowing to avoid choking. It is also suggested that cutting up the mochi into very small bites may be helpful (via BBC). Bottom line: If you are going to eat mochi, chew with care.