Spices are responsible for an estimated 2 percent of food allergies. However, they often go undiagnosed.
According to data presented during the recent annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, lack of reliable testing for spice allergies, coupled with the small quantity of spices contained in most foods, means that many spice allergies remain undetected.
Spices Not Listed on Food Labels
Spices are commonly found in many foods, cosmetics, and dental products. However, because they are not regulated by the FDA, spices are frequently left out of food allergies. This can make it difficult to avoid any particular spice, says Sami Bahna, MD, Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. In addition, spice blends often contain up to 18 spices, and not all are listed on the label. According to Bahna,
"Patients with spice allergy often have to go through extreme measures to avoid the allergen. This can lead to strict dietary avoidance, low quality of life and, sometimes, malnutrition."
The most common spice allergies include garlic and cinnamon. Allergies to black pepper and vanilla, among other spices, have also been reported. Bahna commented in an ACAAI press release,
"While spice allergy seems to be rare, with the constantly increasing use of spices in the American diet and a variety of cosmetics, we anticipate more and more Americans will develop this allergy."
Bahna also pointed out that food is not the only way to come into contact with spices. They are also found in fragrances, toothpaste, body oils, makeup, and other cosmetics. He also reported that patients with an allergy to mugwort or birch pollen may also be more susceptible to spice allergies.
Pinpointing Spice Allergies
Such allergies should be suspected in anyone who experiences an allergic reaction to multiple, seemingly unrelated foods. Spice allergies may also be to blame when someone reacts to foods when commercially prepared, but not when the food is cooked at home.