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Sesame Allergies | Beware of What You Cannot See

As a mother of two children with food allergies, and as a Certified AllerCoach™, I have learned that a sesame allergy can be uniquely risky. I have been with an adult friend with a sesame allergy ask a waiter if there was sesame in a meal, only to be told no and yet a reaction occurred. I have asked to see an ingredients list, only to be told that the packaging did not indicate the ingredients. I have attended community functions and once witnessed a young boy look for sesame seeds on a hamburger bun, declaring it safe to consume. I happened to be standing nearby and had to point out that sesame flour was listed in the ingredients even though seeds were not on the bun.

It is estimated that 1.5 million people are allergic to sesame, which makes it the ninth most common food allergy among children and adults in the United States. Current U.S. government regulations only require food manufacturers to list the 8 Top Allergens in plain and prominent language on labeling, sesame is not included, as it is in Canada and the EU.

In order to prevent a reaction to sesame, vigilance and avoidance are essential. Even if you read food labels, you may find names that would not automatically make you aware that they were unsafe.

Avoid foods that contain any of these ingredients:

  • Benne, benne seed, benniseed

  • Gingelly, gingelly oil

  • Gomasio (sesame salt)

  • Halvah

  • Sesame flour

  • Sesame oil

  • Sesame paste

  • Sesame salt

  • Sesame seed

  • Sesamol

  • Sesamum indicum (scientific name)

  • Sesemolina

  • Sim sim

  • Tahini, Tahina, Tehina

  • Til

If you are going to contact a manufacturer, spice blends and flavoring recipes are considered proprietary information, so it is advised to specifically mention sesame.

Some foods that may contain sesame (some obvious, some not so obvious):

  • Baked goods (such as bagels, bread, breadsticks, hamburger buns, rolls)

  • Bread crumbs

  • Cereals (such as in granola and muesli)

  • Crackers (many gluten free crackers have sesame in the ingredients list)

  • Chips (bagel chips, pita chips, tortilla chips, corn chips)

  • Dipping sauces (such as baba ghanoush, hummus, and tahini sauce)

  • Dressings, gravies, marinades and sauces

  • Falafel

  • Hummus

  • Flavored rice, noodles, risotto, shish kebabs, stews and stir fry

  • Herbs and herbal drinks

  • Margarine

  • Processed meats and sausages

  • Protein and energy bars

  • Snack foods (such as pretzels, candy, halvah, rice cakes)

  • Vegetarian burgers

  • Soups

  • Sushi

  • Tempeh

Non-food items that may contain sesame, may have the scientific name “sesamum indicum”:

  • Cosmetics/creams/soaps/lotions/shampoos

  • Medications

  • Nutritional supplements

  • Pet foods

When I encourage food allergic clients to switch to “clean”, non-toxic cosmetic and skincare brands, I always remind them to look at how the product is made as sesame is a common natural ingredient.

Finally, if you are a nutritionist, registered dietitian, or health coach, or just concerned about yourself or your family, it is important to know that the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act has passed the House but is currently pending before the Senate. The FASTER Act helps to both improve the safety of those in the food allergy community and expand the research necessary to find new treatments. Among other things, the bill would:

  • Update allergen labeling laws to include sesame.

  • Require the federal government to analyze the most promising research opportunities to help scientists develop more effective treatments and, ultimately, a cure for food allergies.

Further information is available from Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE)

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