“Don’t Eat Potatoes and Eggs Together” – and in China, She Wasn’t Alone in This Belief

Many years ago here in China, I remember sitting down to lunch with the wife of my husband’s cousin on a sultry summer day. Surrounded by the tempting aromas of the many delicacies covering the table, we invariably turned our thoughts – and the conversation – to food.

I still don’t remember exactly how we stumbled upon the idea of foods you should and shouldn’t eat. But somehow, the topic surfaced in our friendly chat at the table. And that’s when she began pointing out some curious combinations of foods you should never, ever eat together. Including one particular suggestion.

“Don’t eat potatoes and eggs together,” she said, explaining that the combination was supposedly harmful to your health.

She might as well have been wagging her finger at me and my entire family in America, not to mention entire countries in the West. Growing up, I had watched family members combine potatoes and eggs in all sorts of casseroles and quiches and more. I remember being particularly obsessed with the section on potato recipes from the Betty Crocker cookbook my parents bought for me, and trying my hand at a number of dishes that happened to combine potatoes and eggs.

Besides, during my semester abroad, I chose to study in Spain, a country where the tortilla de patatas, or potato omelette, is one of the most popular foods. I was a vegetarian back then and recall with fondness the many weekend trips when I brought along a sandwich roll stuffed with a tortilla de patatas for lunch.

I had yet to perish from my allegedly “hazardous” egg and potato dishes. And as far as I could tell, the entire country of Spain was doing just fine, with no plans to suddenly cancel one of their most beloved foods. How was it possible that biting into a potato omelette would put your life at risk?

So I tried explaining this to her, nicely, speaking from my own experiences and highlighting the importance of this combination to an entire country.

But no, she wouldn’t budge. Eggs and potatoes were a bad idea.

I later shared this with my husband, who had never heard of it. Still, this cousin’s wife had lived her entire life in the countryside and never went to high school. We just shrugged it off as some odd local old wives’ tale she had learned from her parents or someone in her village.

Turns out, however, she wasn’t the only one who believed this.

In March, China Central Television came out with a report for the country’s national day for consumer protection (which falls on March 15), exposing so-called “dangerous food” combinations as rumors – including eggs and potatoes:

To combat these ingrained beliefs, the segment featured an interview with College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering Professor Fan Zhihong who reassured the televised audience that they won’t get sick from eating deadly food combos, urging the public to select foods based upon nutritional and hygienic value instead. As proof, Professor Fan showed off the results of a laboratory test that conclusively proved that cooking crabs with tomatoes does not produce any harmful amounts of arsenic, contrary to traditional Chinese belief. …

In order to conclusively drive its point home, the segment concluded by focusing on a popular online food restriction guide. As Professor Fan pointed out, the “China Nutritional Committee” that supposedly published the guide doesn’t exist; even more brazen, the guide features a false quote from the World Health Organization which is supposed to have said: “If food is not properly matched with each other, then food will become the death of you.”

The Beijinger article referenced a poster of that food restriction guide, and you can clearly see the eggs and potatoes on the second row, third from the right:

I should point out China doesn’t have a monopoly on pseudoscience, as other countries have far more damaging examples of unscientific rumors. After all, my country of America is also home to a not insignificant number of parents who believe vaccines cause autism (despite the clear scientific consensus this is not true), resulting in outbreaks of totally preventable diseases, like measles.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the cousin’s wife happened to watch the CCTV expose for the consumer protection day – and what she would say now if I ever offered her a tortilla de patatas.

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Jocelyn Eikenburg

Writer & blogger at Speaking of China
Jocelyn is a writer, blogger and the creator of Speaking of China, a blog about love, family and relationships in China, including AMWF love. She has been featured on the BBC and CCTV. You can find her writing in The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, the anthologies "How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit?" and "Unsavory Elements", and other publications.
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14 comments

  1. I’ve heard from several older people that 50-60 years ago many people in the United States believed that having cherries and milk together could actually kill you.
    I later read that this belief originated when the then elderly ex president Taylor happened to die ( of something else) after having cherries and milk. Interestingly, this very combination seems to appear in the chart above.

  2. Oh my, I really want to try a tortilla de patatas after reading this article! I never knew that mixing eggs and potatoes together were not allowed, among many other foods. It’s interesting how other cultures view food, something quite foreign to us in the west!

  3. My MIL is convinced that if you eat persimmon and milk or yogurt together you will day. Meanwhile, on the internet you can find recipes for persimmon milkshakes xD

    My mum told me I would have a tummy each if I ate yogurt and oranges or tangerines together, but I have done it many times and I never had any problem.

    I follow a WeChat account called 丁香医生, they try to dispel many myths Chinese people have regarding health. They also talked about this food combination thing after the tv show. The comments usually are from young people who say they want to stop these non-scientific myths but their parents are adamant, hahaha.

    1. Die, not *day.
      PS. Tortilla de patatas is super yummy and Spain has one of the longest life expectancies in the world, while China is down there in the middle of the list xD

      1. Thanks for the comments Marta! Interesting that you’ve heard of bad food combos from both sides of your family! No doubt it is a major issue here in China, as you’ve pointed out from the comments on that WeChat account.

        I have such great memories of eating tortilla de patatas in Spain! Not surprised the country has such a long life expectancy — there’s such a joy for life there that I still recall with fondness.

  4. Milk of any kind [fresh, sour (and in Romania we have several types of sour milk to drink and we love it) yogurt] and fruits of any kind are a bad combo because they can give an upset stomach [you know the nasty, smelly and runny type,haha]. I’m constipated most of the times and this food combo never caused that adverse reaction.
    Keep in mind that both milk and fruits are generally acidic types of food, and they can give horrible heartburn to those suffering from a high level of acid in their stomachs.

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