Hidden Allergens in 7 Ethnic Foods

Pesto sauces also contain nuts, usually the small, creamy white pine or pignoli nuts, but walnuts are also used.

"The best thing to do is order simply prepared food," Munoz-Furlong said. "Baked, served with sauce on the side, and avoid casseroles where you don't know what's in the food until you're eating it."

Unlikely places to find allergens are the light, sweet shaved ice desserts called granite. The flavored syrups topping granite can contain corn, soy and nuts, if the syrup is flavored with almond or hazelnut, for example. Granite syrups can also contain milk as a flavoring, as can gelato, the Italian ice cream

"It's important not to assume that, because it doesn't look creamy, that it wouldn't contain milk protein," Pongracic said.


From ranchero to adobo to mole, Mexican food is saucy, and while they add flavor and spice, sauces can be problematic for those with allergies.

"Mexican foods use a lot of sauces," Munoz-Furlong said. "That's where you're going to find your hidden allergens."

Because sauces and dips, such as guacamole, can vary in their ingredients, Munoz-Furlong suggests finding out exactly what is in a sauce before eating it. For example, mole, a cocoa based sauce from the states of Puebla and Oaxaca typically served with turkey or chicken, uses a cornucopia of ingredients including chiles, cinnamon and garlic, and it may not be suitable for people with nut allergies because the sauce often contains nuts.

Beans, or frijoles, used in Mexican food -- black beans or pinto beans -- are well tolerated by most people, Nowak-Wegrzyn said, even those for whom peanuts, soybeans, chickpeas or lentils may be a problem.

And those with soy or wheat allergies should think twice before downing a shot of rum or tequila as they may contain those allergens.


One of the most prominent allergens in African cuisine is peanuts, often referred to as groundnuts. They are used in soups, stews and as sauces for meat and rice dishes.

"They are wonderful flavors but you don't know what you're eating," Munoz-Furlong pointed out. "You don't always know what the name of the food might translate to."

But African food can be friendly for those with a wheat allergy or intolerance. Millet, one of the staple starches in many parts of Africa, a cereal crop eaten like rice with stews or meats, is far removed from the wheat family and can be eaten by those with allergies.

Cornmeal, another staple that has different names all across Africa, including ugali in Kenya, sadza in Zimbabwe and fufu in West Africa, is another starchy alternative for those with a wheat allergy.

Middle Eastern

Encompassing the foods from most of the countries in and around the Mediterranean Sea, Middle Eastern cuisine is known for earthy flavors balanced by citrus and herbs, with liberal amounts of olives and olive oil.

But while they pack a lot of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, the seeds and nuts prevalent in Middle Eastern cooking may be the biggest allergy inducing culprits in the cuisine.

Sesame seeds are particularly pervasive in Middle Eastern foods, whole, as oil or ground up into a thin sauce called tahini, which is found in many dishes and used as a dipping sauce for foods such as the spicy chickpea cakes known as falafel.

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