What Spices Should You Avoid With a Nut Allergy?

A tree nut allergy occurs when a person cannot eat a certain type of nut because their immune system deems certain proteins found within it as harmful. This causes a reaction that can come with mild to severe symptoms. As much as 3% of the world’s population has a nut allergy.

When a person is allergic to a specific nut, certain other foods can set off a reaction because of cross-reactivity. Cross-reactivity is when certain proteins in the food a person is allergic to are similar to proteins in other foods.

This article discusses the symptoms of a nut allergic reaction and spices to avoid due to cross-reactivity.

Cumin spice

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Common Tree Nuts

There are various types of tree nuts that people can be allergic to. These include:

  • Almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • Cashews
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts
  • Macadamia nuts

Peanuts and Tree Nut Allergies

Although many people are allergic to peanuts, they are actually not tree nuts. Peanuts grow in the ground, which makes them a legume. That said, people who are allergic to tree nuts may also be allergic to peanuts because peanuts and tree nuts contain similar proteins.

Nut Allergy Symptoms 

When the body reacts to an allergen, which is the substance that causes an allergic reaction, it releases histamines. Histamines are compounds that cause symptoms to develop. These allergy symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Common allergy symptoms found in those allergic to tree nuts include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing, coughing, or sneezing
  • Hoarseness or tightness in the throat
  • Itchy, swollen, or watery eyes
  • Hives (red and itchy welts that form on the skin)
  • Swelling in the face or throat
  • Anxiety
  • Drops in blood pressure

Severe Allergic Reaction Symptoms

A severe allergic reaction is known as anaphylaxis. Although some anaphylaxis symptoms are similar or the same as those mentioned above, the trademark symptoms of anaphylaxis are:  

  • Flushing of the skin
  • Airways that are tight or completely closed
  • Confusion
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • Fear that you are about to die
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Losing consciousness or fainting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • A contraction or spasm of the airways

Nut Allergy and Cross-Contamination Spices

There are a few spices that should be avoided if you have a nut allergy because they may contain traces of nuts that could trigger an allergic reaction.

Cumin

Cumin is a type of dried spice. It is derived from the seeds of the Cuminum cyminum plant. The plant itself is native to Southwest Asia and the Mediterranean. However, it is used in many different cultures because of its warm and nutty flavor.

According to research, cumin often contains traces of peanuts, as well as tree nuts like almonds. Manufacturers use peanuts and other tree nuts as a filler in cumin.

Spice Mixes

Spice blends should be avoided by people with nut allergies because they may contain cumin. If you are going to use any spice mix, it’s best to check the label beforehand to be sure that there is no cumin within the blend or nut fillers that could cause you to have an allergic reaction.

How to Spot Cumin

The only way to truly know if cumin is used in a product is to read the entire ingredients list. Sometimes restaurants use cumin as a flavoring without listing it on the menu. Therefore, it's always best to ask before ordering if there is any risk of cumin contamination in the kitchen.

Where Do Spices Come From? 

All spices are derived from plants, but spices may come from different parts of plants. For example, cinnamon comes from the bark, while cumin, tamarind, and cardamom are all derived from seeds.

Other parts of plants and trees that can be used to make spices include the berries, roots, and flower buds.

Spices and Where They Come From
Roots Ginger and turmeric
Seeds  Nutmeg, fenugreek, dill, and fennel
Bark Cinnamon
Flower buds Saffron and clove
Fruit Anise, caraway, and chili pepper

Does a Nut Allergy Cause Spice Allergy? 

When a person is allergic to a spice, they are allergic to a specific protein found in the spice and have a reaction to that protein.

However, cross-contamination does occur between some spices and nuts, so a person who is allergic to a specific type of protein in a nut could also be allergic to spices that contain that protein. That said, one doesn’t necessarily cause the other.

Common Spice Allergies 

Spice allergies are rare. Roughly four to 13 people per 10,000 adults have an allergy to spices. Some of the most common spices people are allergic to are:

  • Anise
  • Coriander
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Cinnamon
  • Sesame
  • Turmeric
  • Mustard
  • Black pepper
  • Vanilla

Can You Be Allergic to More Than One Spice?

There is a high cross-reactivity among spices. Therefore, it’s likely that if you’re allergic to one spice, you’re likely allergic to others as well.

Other Foods to Avoid 

Since cross-reactivity is high for nuts, you may have to avoid other foods that could set off an allergic reaction as well. If you are allergic to one tree nut, you should avoid all tree nuts unless you know it is safe to eat a certain kind.

For example, if you are allergic to pecans, there is a good chance you are also allergic to walnuts because they have a high level of cross-reactivity. The same goes if you’re allergic to pistachios or cashews.

You should also avoid prepackaged products that don’t list all the ingredients used or have a notice stating that they may contain tree nuts, as you can’t be sure which tree nut will be found in the product.

Summary

Tree nut allergies are difficult to cope with because they are often used in many types of foods and spices. Specific spices that should be avoided if you have a tree nut allergy include cumin and spice blends. You should refrain from consuming cumin because it often uses nuts as a filler, and spice blends because they often contain cumin.

If you do consume a tree nut that you’re allergic to, you will experience symptoms of an allergic reaction, including hives, itchy or watery eyes, chest or throat tightness, and face swelling.

If you experience any symptoms of a severe allergic reaction such as confusion, gastrointestinal distress, or difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately. A severe allergic reaction can, in some cases, cause coma or even death.

A Word From Verywell 

It can be challenging to have a tree nut allergy because of how often they're used and how they can be hidden in various food products. It's best to avoid them as much as possible to prevent unwanted symptoms.

Since you can't check labels while out for a meal, be sure to discuss the ingredients and possible cross-reactivity of foods in your order with your server. You will want to do everything in your power to avoid the potentially dangerous consequences of a severe allergic reaction.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do spices trigger allergies?

    Spices have the ability to trigger allergies. It depends on what is in them and whether or not they are mixed with anything used as a filler. For example, some spices have only the spice as an ingredient, whereas others, such as cumin, use nuts as a filler. When spices do contain an allergen, they will trigger allergies.

  • Do spices contain nuts?

    Not all spices contain nuts, but some might. To be sure, it’s best to check the labels of every spice you use prior to eating it. The spices that are most likely to contain nuts are cumin and spice mixes.

  • Is nutmeg safe for nut allergies?

    Contrary to its name, nutmeg does not contain nuts. The spice is derived from a seed. That is why nutmeg is safe for people with tree nut allergies.

  • Is cinnamon safe for nut allergies?

    Similar to nutmeg, cinnamon does not contain nuts and is safe for those with nut allergies. It is made from the bark of a cinnamon tree. Cinnamon sticks are dried pieces of the bark and powdered cinnamon is made by grinding up the bark.

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