Sesame Allergies: Everything You Need to Know
Sesame allergies are more common than you think: roughly 17% of children who suffer from a food allergen are allergic to sesame. Many of these children deal with it throughout their lives, with only 20-30% of them outgrowing the allergy.
In spite of how many people suffer from sesame allergies, it was only recently added as the ninth major food allergen by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration on January 1, 2023. As a result, food items packaged before that date – some of which are still on shelves today – may not declare that the product includes sesame, even if it does.
It can also be difficult to find sesame-free food options and alternatives. That’s why we’ve compiled this guide to help children, parents, and adults navigate life with sesame allergies
What is a Sesame Allergy?
A sesame allergy occurs when the body mistakes the proteins found in sesame for a threat, and sends the body into an allergic reaction in an effort to fight off the perceived invader. These reactions are often mild to moderate but can be life threatening in some cases.
Symptoms of a Sesame Allergy
Sesame allergy symptoms often begin immediately after ingesting a food containing sesame, though in some cases reactions can begin up to an hour afterwards. Symptoms are often mild to moderate, though in some cases they can be severe. These symptoms include:
- Redness of the skin, rash, or swelling, commonly on the face
- Itchiness in the mouth or throat, which may include coughing
- Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Swelling of the throat that can lead to difficulty breathing
- Faintness or dizziness
If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms for the first time, please seek immediate medical attention. Even someone who has never had a severe reaction before can experience life-threatening symptoms.
What is Sesame?
Sesame is a plant native to tropical regions around the world, common in Africa and Asia. Sesame plants grow seeds that are then used directly or crushed into oil for recipes all around the world. Sesame has been used as an ingredient for human consumption for thousands of years, with some records estimating that humans domesticated the plant as early as 3500 B.C.
Foods With Sesame
Sesame seeds and sesame oil is prevalent in cooking across the globe. Some common foods that contain sesame include but are not limited to:
Asian, Middle Eastern & African Cuisine
Sesame oil has a rich tradition in Asian, Middle Eastern & African cuisine, having been used for centuries. Sesame oil is used in the cooking of many different types of food including:
- Meat marinades
- Gomashio (Japanese sesame salt)
Sesame is also often used as a garnish or topping. It’s important to be especially careful when traveling abroad with a sesame allergy, as other countries have different labeling requirements from the United States.
Crackers & Chips
In addition to crackers and chips, sesame is often found in other starchy products such as hamburger and hotdog buns, cereal, and products containing bread crumbs.
Sesame can often be found in salads – frequently in Asian-style salads though not exclusively. Salads may include sesame seeds directly or be covered in sauces that contain sesame as an ingredient.
Many granola bars and protein bars may contain sesame.
Sesame Free Ingredients to Substitute
There are many other seeds that can be used as a sesame seed substitute to provide similar flavor and texture.
- Poppy seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
If you can tolerate nuts, pine nuts, pistachio, and almonds are an option in some recipes.
For cooking substitutes for products containing sesame oil, try:
- Grapeseed oil
- Canola oil
- Sunflower oil
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