Sesame seed is a common ingredient in our diet. It is also one of the most common causes of serious allergic reactions, particularly in children.
When thinking of sesame seed one of the first images to come to mind are the tiny seeds added to bread, buns, and crackers. An estimated 75% of Mexico’s sesame crop goes to McDonald’s to be used in their sesame seed buns.
Sesame seed is also the main ingredient in many foods that many do not know contain it. For example, it is commonly known that hummus is made from chickpeas, however, another main ingredient in hummus is Tahini, a sauce made from toasted ground sesame seed. Tahini is also used in halva and falafel and is commonly used in Middle Eastern restaurants as a side dish or as a garnish.
Sesame allergy is the 9th most common food allergy in the U.S. and its prevalence appears to have increased significantly over the past several years. Although sesame allergy frequently causes severe allergic reactions, it is less well known than other allergenic nuts and seeds.
Sesame allergy is the 9th most common food allergy in the U.S
Since 2004, the FDA has required that manufacturers label foods for 8 major allergens including milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans. Importantly, because the FDA does not include sesame in its list of major food allergens, food manufacturers are not required to list it as an ingredient. A year ago the FDA asked for comments regarding adding sesame to the list of major allergenic foods. To date, nearly 5,000 votes have been received overwhelmingly in favor of making the change.
Find out if you are allergic
A history of suspected sesame seed allergy can be easily confirmed with an allergy skin test. Currently, the only treatment is careful avoidance. It is important to ask about ingredients when eating out, particularly if Middle Eastern dishes are on the menu. Anyone with a history of a serious reaction should carry self-injectable epinephrine such as an EpiPen at all times.