Sesame Allergy – The Ninth Most Common Food Allergy in the United States

According to a 2019 New York Times report, at least one million children and adults in the United States are allergic to sesame, an ingredient used in everything from soups to snack bars.

Dr. Ruchi Gupta, director of the Center for Food Allergy and Asthma Research at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, notes that sesame is in a lot of foods as hidden ingredients and is very hard to avoid. She considers it the ninth most common food allergen in the United States.

Gupta’s team’s research indicates that 4 in 5 people with sesame allergy have at least one other food allergy.

  • More than half have a peanut allergy
  • One in three have tree nut allergy
  • One in four have egg allergy
  • One in five have cow’s milk allergy

It is important to note that sesame labeling is not required by law as it is with eight common food allergens: egg, milk, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, shellfish, finfish, and the proteins derived from these foods.

Individuals with sesame allergy and parents of children with sesame allergy need to be diligent in determining which foods are safe to eat. Sensitivity to sesame varies from person to person, and reactions can be unpredictable.

A mild reaction once does not mean the individual will always have a mild reaction – the next reaction may be a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. Individuals with sesame allergy are encouraged to keep an epinephrine auto-injector at all times as the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis.

Possible symptoms of a sesame allergy include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hives
  • Abdomen pain
  • Coughing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Itchiness in the throat or mouth
  • Redness in the face
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low pulse rate
  • Life-threatening anaphylaxis

Sesame ingredients can be listed by many uncommon names, so it is important to read food labels and ask questions about ingredients. Sesame can also appear undeclared in ingredients such as flavors or spice blends. Foodallergy.org lists the following alternate names for sesame ingredients.

  • Benne, benne seed, benniseed
  • Gingelly, gingelly oil
  • Gomasio (sesame salt)
  • Halvah
  • Sesame flour
  • Sesame oil
  • Sesame paste
  • Sesame salt
  • Sesame seed
  • Sesamol
  • Sesamum indicum
  • Sesemolina
  • Sim sim
  • Tahini, Tahina, Tehina
  • Til

In non-food items, the scientific name for sesame, Sesamum indicum, may be on the label.

  • Cosmetics (including soaps and creams)
  • Medications
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Pet foods
  • Bird seed

Learn more about sesame allergy at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’s website.

Do you experience sesame allergy or another food allergy? Consider becoming a plasma donor for allergy research.