Caution: ‘Do not open, sesame’
Sesame seeds are an excellent source of copper, calcium, Vitamin A, protein and healthy fats but to some people they can be dangerous. Sesame seed allergies are on the rise.
In Australia, a sesame seed allergy is fourth behind milk, eggs and peanuts. In Israel, there are more people with a sesame seed allergy than a peanut allergy.
Today sesame seeds are not only found on top of a hamburger bun. They are ground into a paste and are included in hummus, falafel, granola, bread sticks, salad dressings, Asian noodles and even some spices.
Sesame seeds can also be found in unexpected places such as lipstick, hand cream, cookies and tomato sauce. The scary thing about a sesame seed allergy is that although it may cause the sinuses to drip and skin to itch, it can also make breathing difficult and become life threatening.
The biochemical structure of sesame is similar to the peanut. Those with a sesame allergy are at risk for having allergic reactions from peanuts. This is called cross-reactivity. One substance is so much like another that the immune system treats them both the same.
There is also a cross reactivity between sesame allergens and rye, kiwi, poppy seed, hazel nut, black walnut, cashew, macadamia and pistachio nuts. Therefore, people with a peanut allergy should pay attention to their symptoms when eating sesame and any of the other foods mentioned above.
There are as many adults with a sesame allergy as children so experts suspect that it is not one of those allergies that disappear as people get older.
Sesame seeds are the oldest condiment known to man. They have been used to add flavor to dishes for the past 5,000 years. The oil does not turn rancid quickly and can last a long time making it very valuable for food storage.
The phrase “Open, Sesame” comes from the tales of the Arabian Nights. The pods of seeds actually pop open on the plant when ripe.
Sesame seed is not one of those foods that people eat alone. Even the sesame paste is spread onto a cracker or a piece of pita bread. You don’t find sesame seeds on the rack at the gas station next to the cashews or trail mix. It is one of those hidden ingredients that enhance flavor and boost nutrition.
Pinpointing a sesame seed allergy may be like finding a needle in a haystack without specific allergy testing. Someone with nagging allergic symptoms may need to consider this seed as a clue to their health problems. A health sleuth may need to declare, “Do not open, Sesame” to avoid troublesome allergic reactions.
Allergies have affected people for years and in the past people may have reacted from allergies without realizing that they should avoid certain foods. New scientific research is alerting more people to substances than can be harmful to them. If an allergy to sesame seeds is suspected, contact a physician.
Bobbie Randall is a certified diabetes educator, registered, licensed dietitian. She supervises a diabetes self-management training program at Aultman-Orrville Hospital, Orrville. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330–684-4776.