Hidden Allergens in 7 Ethnic Foods

Rich, creamy dishes such as béchamel pastas, bisque soups and crème brulee are signature French fare, as are cheeses, but should be avoided by those allergic to dairy.

The classic French duck or goose liver delicacy known as foie gras can be another source of hidden allergens. Although French law requires foie gras to contain about 80 percent liver, the rest can be a combination of other meats, as well as eggs, corn or soy oil and nuts.

Fortunately, champagne and white and red wine are free of the eight most common allergens, and unless the sulfites found in red wine are hive-inducing, an allergen-free meal with a good bordeaux or sauvignon blanc should be tres bien!


If any theme could unify the diversities in Indian cuisine, it may be the judicious use of spices.

Some of the most common spices are ground up and mixed into masalas as a flavorful base for vegetable and meat curries, rice and almost every other savory dish, include bay leaves, coriander, cardamom, fenugreek, ginger, garlic and turmeric.

"The biggest [allergy] risk is not going to be spices for the majority of people," Munoz-Furlong said, because while the classic spices themselves are not typically allergenic, masalas, which can vary from household to household, can be a risk.

Sloane Miller recalled a restaurant she went to that told her they used "just a little bit" of hazelnut in their masala.

"Isn't [masala] the basis for everything?" said Miller, who is allergic to tree nuts. "That can't be good."

People with allergies to dairy products, peanuts and tree nuts should be wary of creamy curry sauces that often include cream and are thickened with a cashew or almond paste. Menu items with the word "malai" signal a creamy sauce.

Lentils and legumes, a major source of protein in a country with a large vegetarian population, can also trigger an allergy. Allergies to chickpeas or garbanzo beans are prevalent in India, according to a 2001 study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

Another unifying custom in India is afternoon tea. While the plain varieties are unlikely to contain allergens, those allergic to milk should avoid masala chai, a spiced, sweetened tea made with hot milk.

Indian desserts such as kheer, a milky rice pudding, and kulfi, a rich ice cream, are also typically milk based and nut-heavy. If the local fruits do not trigger an allergic reaction, then a mango or a custard apple can help satisfy a sweet craving.


Italian food has become pervasive and evolved its own culture in the United States. While it may be difficult to imagine allergens lurking in a simple dish of spaghetti with tomato sauce, many common ingredients in Italian food can be highly allergenic.

Cheese and dairy products, used liberally in Italian cooking, should be avoided by those allergic to dairy. Cross contamination can be a risk if fettuccini pasta, for example, were cooked in the same water as cheese ravioli.

Breads and pastas are an important food and vehicles for sauce in Italian cooking and those with a wheat allergy or intolerance could feel excluded from the culture. But the variety of gluten-free pasta and bread products now available make tasty substitutions for those with allergies easy.

Breaded and fried items, such as mozzarella sticks or eggplant, can be more problematic because breading mixes can contain wheat, seeds and nuts, which can trigger allergies.

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