What is a sesame allergy?

tree nut allergy 101

Though sesame is not currently included on the list of Top 8 allergens, research indicates that sesame allergies are becoming increasingly common and can be life-threatening. Allergic reactions to sesame seeds and oil occur when the body's immune system mistakes the proteins in the seed as a dangerous invader and overreacts to attack it, prompting a reaction. Reactions range from gastrointestinal problems, hives and skin irritation to anaphylaxis.

Sesame is the most common seed allergy, but other potential seed allergens include sunflower, poppy and mustard. Studies show that most individuals with a sesame allergy are not allergic to other seeds, meaning that doctors do not typically recommend automatic testing or elimination of other seeds. Researchers report that around 13% of individuals with peanut allergies also have an allergy to sesame, but around half of those with both peanut and tree nut allergies are allergic to sesame.

When are sesame allergies discovered?

A sesame allergy diagnosis can vary in age depending on level of exposure. For example, researchers found that in Israel (where sesame is more prevalent and is the third most common allergen) children are typically diagnosed with a sesame allergy within the first year of life. As sesame dishes like hummus and falafel become increasingly popular in the United States, children are being exposed to sesame earlier and more often.

A study published in 2013 revealed that children with sesame allergies are significantly less likely to outgrow their allergies than children who are allergic to milk, egg or soy. However increasing treatments, therapies and research are revealing more about how sesame allergies evolve from childhood to adulthood.

How to avoid sesame

The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid sesame and products containing sesame entirely. It is more difficult to avoid sesame than the top 8 allergens because the FDA does not legally require manufacturers to list sesame explicitly as an ingredient. Some multi-grain breads, oil and tahini will include sesame as an ingredient, but others will list it under different names like "spices" or "natural flavoring." If you are unsure of any ingredients listed on the label, be safe and avoid it.

Watch out for food cooked or fried in sesame oil. While most oils like peanut and soybean oil are highly refined and considered safe for people with allergies, sesame oil is not highly refined and can pose a threat to those with a sesame allergy. When eating out, always check to see what type of oil is used to fry and if they have designated fryers. Even if the kitchen does not used sesame oil, there is a high chance of cross contamination with any breaded foods that contain sesame and have been fried.

Sesame can often be found in:

  • Bread β€” even if not visible, most bread either contains or has come into contact with sesame seed or oil
  • Baked goods
  • Salad dressing
  • Tahini
  • Spices
  • Natural flavors

Foods to avoid:

  • Sesame oil
  • Asian food
  • Sushi
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Hamburger buns
  • Frozen food
  • Chips
  • Processed meat
  • Gluten-free food
  • Vegetable oil
  • Granola bars
  • Protein bars
  • Candy
  • Veggie burgers
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Hummus
  • Bagels
  • Crackers
  • Cereals
  • Nutmeg

Alternative names for sesame:

  • Benne seed
  • Gingelly/gingelly oil
  • Gomasio (sesame salt)
  • Havah
  • Esamol

  • Sesamolina

  • Sesamum indicum
  • Sim sim
  • Sesame flour/oil/paste/salt/seed
  • Tahini

Other types of seeds:

  • Benne/benniseed/benne seed
  • Carroway
  • Chia
  • Egusi
  • Hemp
  • Flax
  • Sesame
  • Sunflower
  • Mustard
  • Millet
  • Poppy
  • Pumpkin
  • Rapesees
  • Squash
  • Watermelon

Non-food products that could have sesame:

  • Hair care products
  • Lipstick
  • Moisturizer

Discover more!

Learn how to eat in a restaurant with a sesame allergy

Browse sesame-free recipes