Hidden Allergens in 7 Ethnic Foods

"Accidents occur when you least expect, so be prepared to institute the treatment plan to help you remedy the situation should an allergic reaction arise," Pongracic said.

Get Your Questions Answered at the ABCNews.com OnCall+ Allergy Center

The following pages show which common allergens can be found in some ethnic foods.


Asian cuisines, from Japanese and Chinese to Thai and Korean, vary in flavor but share several of the big eight allergens as ingredients, in particular, peanuts, fish and shellfish, soy and eggs.

In addition to cooking with several major allergens, common foods are often incorporated into Asian dishes in uncommon ways. For example, the casings of fried egg rolls or spring rolls can be sealed with peanut butter. Those with peanut allergies may not see peanuts in the menu description, but they are still part of the dish.

Of all the Asian cuisines, Thai food is particularly peanut rich. The legumes are used for flavoring, thickening, and garnishing many dishes, such as pad thai rice noodles.

Cross contamination can be an issue for those with allergies when it comes to Asian cooking techniques. Woks, for example, are not meant to be soaped in between so that they can be seasoned over time with the flavors and oils of foods cooked in them. But if a person with a shellfish allergy is served a seafood-less dish made in a wok that was used to cook shrimp, some shellfish proteins can contaminate the food and lead to a reaction.

"I've ordered a vegetarian dish and it showed up with a claw," Miller said. "It was made in the same wok."

Re-used cooking oil can also contribute to cross contamination of allergens with other foods.

In these cases, clear communication between diner and restaurant staff is critical and a card listing specific allergens can be helpful.

Interestingly, soy sauce, ubiquitous in Asian restaurants, is usually well tolerated by those with a soy allergy because the soy proteins are broken down by the fermentation process. Wheat is a larger problem in soy, tamari or fish sauce condiments because those can contain gluten proteins.

"Reading the label is the most important thing," Tsai advised. "Or at the restaurant, get the manager or chef to read it for you."


French food, from the seafood rich dishes of the north to the Proven├žal fare of the south, has a certain je ne sais quoi. But that indefinable kick could spell trouble for those with allergies.

The emphasis on fresh, local cuisine gives the French a variety of vegetables to work with but salad dressings and vinaigrettes can be a hidden source for nut and seed oils and eggs. Expensive, hand-pressed oils -- walnut, almond and sesame, for example -- used for their intense flavors, can be more allergenic than the cheaper, refined oils because they contain more nut proteins.

Mustard and mustard seeds, a common ingredient in French cooking, is a growing concern in France, Nowak-Wegrzyn said. A 2003 French study reported that mustard allergy accounts for 1.1 percent of food allergies in children, according to the journal Allergy.

"The more a particular food is being used, the more you have the potential to see the reaction," Nowak-Wegrzyn said.

Malt vinegar, a common table condiment often sprinkled over pommes frites (French fries), is made of undistilled fermented barley. Those with a wheat allergy should avoid malt vinegars because they contain gluten -- wheat proteins.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...