Sesame Allergies

July 18, 2016

Sesame allergies are on the rise. Find out how to protect yourself and your family from unexpected sesame ingestion.

Shopping with allergies in mind is always a task, especially when hungry, in a rush, or if you just want to try something new. There are eight common allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, eggs, milk, fish and shellfish – but there is another allergen on the rise: sesame seeds.

A 2005 study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, named sesame allergy a “significant, serious and growing problem.” It’s the number three allergen in Israel, where children are commonly fed nutritious sesame products for protein and iron. In Australia, it’s considered the number four biggest allergen, and Canada and the European Commission require sesame to be listed as an allergen on all food labels. In the US, sesame is not considered one of the top eight allergens and therefore is not required to be declared on food labels- posing problems for those with sesame allergy.

Why is sesame allergy on the rise? One possible reason is that Americans are eating more sesame than ever before; research has demonstrated that the more common a food becomes in the every day diet, the more people will report an allergy. Today sesame is not just found on hamburger buns, but the growing popularity of hummus, falafel, granola, bread sticks, cookies, salad dressing, Asian noodles, some spices and flavorings has pushed sesame into our everyday eats.

Another problem is that sesame oil can be found in unexpected places. It’s sometimes found in tomato sauce, hand cream, lipstick and more – the key is reading labels.

Symptoms of a sesame allergy can range from hives to the life threatening anaphylaxis. The reaction occurs upon ingestion and, for some, it can occur from skin contact. Sesame oil in certain cosmetics can even bring on a rash.

Also note that cross-reactivity can occur between sesame allergy and peanut and tree nut allergies but this depends on the individual.
Unfortunately federal law does not require that sesame be labeled as of yet. Here is a list of foods to avoid. Read ingredient lists carefully and when in doubt, don’t eat it!

Benne/benne seed/benniseed, gomasio (sesame salt), halvah, hummus, sesame oil, sesamol/sesamolina, sesamum indicum, sim sim, tahini, and vegetable oil.

Some other general places to be on the lookout for sesame include: Middle Eastern, Asian and Greek restaurants and bakeries – cross contamination is always as possibility as well. Baked goods including: breads, buns, rolls, crackers, cookies, pastries, bagels, and certain cereals, such as muesli. Snacks including trail mixes, granola bars, protein bars, candy, rice cakes, pretzels, bagel chips, pita chips. Processed food including margarine, sauces, dips, soups, salad dressing, processed meats, vegetarian burgers.

Information gathered from the Food Allergy Initiative.