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What Is Forbidden Fruit?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Forbidden fruit is something which is appealing but is not allowed, usually because of social or religious proscriptions. This term has its origins in the Book of Genesis, in which Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge despite being told not to and end up facing certain consequences. When people refer to “forbidden fruit,” it includes the suggestion that disregarding the proscription against it could have severe consequences.

The term is often associated with acts that are considered sinful or inappropriate, such as things of a sexual nature. Some people might also use it to refer to secret and potentially dangerous knowledge, in a reference to Adam and Eve's original transgression. Social conventions might frown upon consuming something or engaging in a given activity, treating it as forbidden fruit, and sometimes this can make it more appetizing. Denying people the opportunity to do something can sometimes paradoxically increase their interest in it.

Some actions are not just socially unacceptable, they also are illegal. Many people treat the use of illegal drugs as an example of forbidden fruit, for instance. The illegality of things such as alcohol consumption for people who are younger than the drinking age can create a veil of intrigue that makes them more appealing. Legal consequences for consuming forbidden substances can vary but might create a barrier to seeking assistance if a problem arises, because people might fear legal penalties in the wake of something such as alcohol poisoning at a party that was attended by minors.

The term usually is used metaphorically, but there are a few examples of literal forbidden fruit. In Polynesian culture, for example, breadfruit is considered taboo for women, and they are not allowed to consume it. Other cultures might reserve specific fruits or fruit products for people who are in positions of power or privilege. They might also restrict access to hallucinogenic plants to people who act as shamans or medicine men, because they use these plants in specifically religious contexts, not recreational contexts. Although other members of the community could consume these forbidden fruits, it might be frowned upon.

The identity of the original fruit in Eden has been a topic of lively discussion. It is often assumed to be an apple, but several other fruits, including the fig and the tomato, have been put forward as potential candidates. Figs play a prominent role in Genesis, and because Adam and Eve also cover themselves with fig leaves after eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, it is possible that the original story meant to reference figs.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By ZsaZsa56 — On May 06, 2012

I have been wearing forbidden fruit perfume for the past several years now. It has a vague apple scent to it and I love the way it makes me smell. The smell is strong but distinct. It is unique compared to lots of other perfumes I have tried.

By tigers88 — On May 05, 2012

Forbidden fruit has been such a powerful metaphor throughout human history because it is a feeling that we can all relate to. I bet that there is not a single person that has not wanted something they could not have and been tortured by that feeling.

By summing — On May 04, 2012

I understand the appeal of the forbidden fruit all too well. I feel like my life has been dominated by unrealized desires. It is not that I want things that I cannot have. My problem is that I want things which I should not have. And to deny myself these things takes a tremendous amount of will power and self control.

But it can be done. Human will is an amazing thing. If you are shamed by the depth of your desire, take pride in the strength of your will. You can overcome. You can become stronger and better. The forbidden fruit may be tempting but it does not have to dominate your life.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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