Only 2 to 3 percent of the population is believed to be allergic to spices or seasonings. And if you think about the sheer number of different spices and herbs that are available, it’s no wonder that specific allergies to, for example, garlic, cardamom or nutmeg are so rare.
Discovering Spice Allergies Is Often a Journey
Let’s say your child breaks out in hives or experiences trouble breathing in seemingly random circumstances. You take her to the allergist for testing, and the basic tests show she has two food allergies: milk and eggs. Problem solved, right? Those ingredients appear in all kinds of dishes!
You stop cooking with milk and eggs and make a point to alert restaurant staff to your child’s allergy so dishes can be prepared safely. And yet she still experiences reactions now and then, both at home and when eating out.
You assume the restaurant staff have been careless or that cross contamination has occurred in the other ingredients you use to cook with at home. But even at the vegan restaurants in town, where there are no milk or egg products on the menu at all, your daughter continues to have a problem.
At your wit’s end, you contact your allergist for advice. Additional in-depth testing is recommended, including one for numerous spices.
Finally, you receive an answer: your daughter is allergic to cinnamon! This warming spice is used in everything from baked goods to soups to salad dressings to marinades—no wonder your child’s reactions were seemingly random.
Tests Available for Some but Not All Spice Allergies
An IgG-IgE test is available that can detect allergies to up to 48 different spices, herbs or seasonings, including:
- Bay Leaf
- Grape Seed
- Green Tea
- Pepper (black and cayenne)
Other flavorful foods commonly found in many dishes include garlic and onion, and these can be tested for as well.
But there may be spices frequently used in your own kitchen or in your favorite restaurants that don’t show up in panel tests. In the event the test is inconclusive, some detective work is in order, usually in the form of an elimination diet. This requires you to start with a basic diet composed of foods that give your child no reaction at all. Then, other foods can slowly be added. Keep a detailed journal of exactly what your child eats and at what time so you can trace any reactions back to the source. Don’t forget to write down a single ingredient!
If the reactions only happen at restaurants, you can usually ask the cooks for a complete ingredient list to help you pinpoint the culprit. If the cooks know it’s for the safety of one of their customers, they should be happy to oblige.
Spices Appear in Unexpected Places
Spice allergies require strict label reading and care to be taken when eating out. Even when other parents are familiar with the dangers of food allergies, many do not realize that spices can be problematic. Education and prevention is vital.
Note that a runny nose is not by itself an allergic reaction to spices; some spices (like pepper) naturally decongest the sinuses. But wheezing, difficulty breathing, and a swollen or itchy throat or mouth require immediate attention.
Does your child have a spice allergy? How was it discovered? Share your experiences in the comments below!