Help me reverse engineer this allergy
November 20, 2014 6:46 PM   Subscribe

Repeated allergic reaction to vegan restaurant's food items, please help me figure out what it was from. (snowflake details inside)

Twice this year, I've experienced a reaction to food at a local vegan restaurant. The restaurant will not give out the ingredients of the food item I believe I reacted to (specifically, their "cheese" sauce). The first time I had this reaction, I initially thought it was from their barbeque sauce, which they freely gave me the ingredients of, and I was left wondering if I'd developed an allergy to hot peppers.

Six months later, I went back and had the same reaction, I've ruled out the BBQ sauce as the culprit, as both times the only common food I ate was the cheese sauce (avoided the BBQ sauce this visit). The cheese sauce is apparently a recipe they guard with their life and I'm told not to bother trying to obtain it, no matter that it's for health reasons.

The reaction: at first a slight numbness at the corners of my mouth, then this turns into swelling there as well as in all the soft tissue inside my mouth (around the gums, the palette, the inside of my cheeks, my lips, etc). The first time the reaction was moving back into my throat so I chewed up a Benedryl, worrying that my throat would swell shut. This time, I had a smaller "dose" so I think I managed to get a slightly less intense response.

The reaction is similar to one I had from a specific Pizza Pizza dipping sauce (Peppercorn Ranch), four years ago, which at the time I thought was anaphylaxis and went to the ER (where they just had me sit for about six hours and then sent me home). The list of ingredients for that sauce are as follows:

Canola oil, water, vinegar, buttermilk powder, buttermilk flavour, egg yolk, salt, black pepper, sugar, spices and spice extracts, flavour, xanthan gum, titaniumdioxide, chives, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, calcium disodium EDTA.

I am researching the ingredients but wondering if anyone has heard of reactions to any of these? Thinking perhaps the vegan joint uses one of these more "chemical" type ingredients & that's why they're being squirrelly about it? I am hoping to avoid this reaction in the future as it's highly unpleasant. Hope me allergy prone Mefites!
posted by SassHat to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "Spices and spice extracts" is a catch-all term that can hide a plethora of sins, as it were. I am highly allergic to msg (although my particar reactions are different than yours) so I try to avoid items with that particar lack of transparency in their reporting. Cheese products particularly have a lot of msg added, under various names.
posted by vignettist at 6:53 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What if you called the management of the local vegan place, gave them the list of ingredients you have for the ranch dip and ask them to confirm for you any of those ingredients that are in the cheese sauce? That way you aren't asking for the recipe yet are still able to track down the culprit. On second thought, go in person during off hours.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:54 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Would they tell you about any common allergens that are in the sauce? Surely saying "soy sauce is an ingredient" or "peanut oil is an ingredient" isn't going to destroy their big secret.
posted by Sara C. at 7:11 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Most vegan cheese sauces have nutritional yeast in them, or sometimes puréed cashews. Maybe one of those?
posted by something something at 7:31 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cashews would be the most likely culprit--very common allergen.

Have you had a similar reaction to anything else you've eaten ever? The ingredients in the Pizza Pizza sauce are pretty generic--you'd have encountered all of them another time, for sure.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:47 PM on November 20, 2014

Best answer: Cashew was my first thought too. If you are allergic to cashews, you should also be wary of pistachios which can trigger the same allergy. If possible, see an allergist. They can test you definitively for various allergens.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:48 PM on November 20, 2014

Best answer: My money is on cashews, since that is what the cheesiest-tasting vegan cheezes are made from nowadays. That said, I find it very weird that the vegan place won't let you know what is in the sauce -- if any place should be transparent about what is in their food, it is a restaurant catering to folks with an extremely restricted diet! I'd reassure you are only looking for a potential allergen, and see if they release the info. If they won't, insist they let you know if any of the top ten most common allergens are contained in the cheez (wheat, tree it, peanut, sesame, etc -- commonly seen on food labels nowadays).
posted by apparently at 7:49 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I eat nutritional yeast and all manner of nuts on a pretty regular basis without reaction. Only other food reaction I've ever had is to mango and they assured me there is no mango/mango-derived ingredients in it. One avenue I'm looking into is the titanium dioxide, which seems like a stretch for being in this random vegan joint's sauce, but it's in the PP sauce, and I am often allergic to sunscreen, which is apparently a common way that people find out they are allergic to titanium dioxide. I am ALSO allergic to nickel, which titanium can contain? So that feels like it could be something.
posted by SassHat at 7:53 PM on November 20, 2014

Best answer: The only "chemical" ingredient on that list I can imagine a restaurant using is xanthan gum -- which is readily available and often used in vegan cheese. A quick Google finds a bunch of people reporting xanthan gum sensitivities. Of course, you'll find that for pretty much any ingredient. Still, it might be something to investigate.
posted by neroli at 8:07 PM on November 20, 2014

Best answer: Check with your local health department or whoever regulates food safety for restaurants in your area; it's possible that they may be required by law to give you a list of ingredients.
posted by stormyteal at 8:22 PM on November 20, 2014

Best answer: Sometimes it's the detergents and chemicals they use to clean the dishes, utensils, and other things in the kitchen.
posted by kcm at 8:46 PM on November 20, 2014

Best answer: I know you said you eat nuts with no problems, but it's worth considering the cashew allergy for two reasons:

1. U are allergic to mangoes, and people with mango allergies often are allergic to the same compounds in cashews (and poison ivy)
2. Many vegan cheeses are made from cashews...
posted by Toddles at 8:55 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I know you said you eat all manner of nuts without trouble- but you also mention a reaction to mango. Mangoes and cashews are related and it sounds like reactions may depend on the oil in their skins. I am still thinking it could be something in this same Anacardiaceae family. I noticed this headline at the bottom of the previous article- Pink Peppercorns (which are not actually pepper, but are sometimes found in pepper blends) are also in the same family
posted by Secretariat at 8:58 PM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Just to be devil's advocate here: I'm allergic to mangoes as well, but I am not allergic to cashews. If OP says they've eaten cashews w/out problem it's probably not that!
posted by shaka_lulu at 10:28 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This sounds exactly like my oral allergy to cashews. For the record, I'm not allergic to all nuts, and my cashew allergy is a recent development; I didn't used to have problems with them.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:55 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: FWIW, *pink* peppercorns are not peppercorns -- they are relatives of, wait for it, cashews. Given your mango situation, I think cashews / pink peppercorns might be something to look at.
posted by KathrynT at 9:26 AM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to all the suggestions, especially the cashew one (I had no idea they were related to mango!) but as I eat cashews all the time with no reaction, I find it hard to believe that was it.

I found out that Daiya cheese (upon which the sauce is based) contains titanium dioxide, I am 98% sure this is the culprit as I stated I have extreme sensitivity to other topical products that contain it. Now I will be careful to avoid foods which contain this ingredient.
posted by SassHat at 10:40 AM on November 21, 2014

Best answer: Glad you have figured this out. The good news is that Daiya tastes like hamster shreds next to the voluptuous wonder that is cashew cheese, which you are not allergic to! Try Treeline cheeses. Taste is amazing, and they are very open about their ingredients. No titanium dioxide, or any other weirdness.
posted by apparently at 5:45 PM on November 21, 2014

« Older Song ID   |   PhD programs in Philosophy of Biology/Biosemiotics... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.