Dining Out With Allergies

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Black pepper Allergy

Disease Prevention

I am allergic to black pepper. So is my mom. We don’t get stomach aches, our throats won’t close and we don’t go all hive-y, but we do get herpes-style blisters on our lips and sometimes just above or below them. The blisters turn to scabs and the scabs come off after a week and then leave small scars. It’s a lengthy, unsightly and painful process- thankfully not life threatening. All the same, I won’t go near peppered food,  a tricky thing to do when black pepper is in everything!

I imagine if you were allergic to nuts, you’d feel like nuts were in everything. Likewise with gluten, or soy, or strawberries or (fill in your blank here!).

Black pepper is my nemesis. That is why you will never find it in my recipes, on my blog or in my book, and why I use cayenne, chili or nothing instead. For those who keep asking, there it is. I invite you to use it if you prefer, nothing wrong with a dash here or there, just not when I’m coming for lunch.

Raw and vegan food is most often the worst culprit for my limitation, as marinades, sauces and dips, breads and wraps are batch prepped and/or take time to dehydrate/simmer, so special preparation requests are often not as available and understandably tough with all the other dietary restrictions that need to be accommodated these days.

Any food that has medicinal properties (meaning it affects the organism that consumes it) runs the risk of having a negative side effect. I thought I was rather alone in the pepper thing- but in doing my research, I have learned that I am not. Allergic reactions to black pepper seem to be on the rise and symptoms can include stomach cramps, diarrhea, itchy inner ear, numbness of the tongue and just about everything in between (think  severe inflammation of the skin, gastrointestinal tract, and respiratory system).

There are two sides to the health benefit coin when it comes to pepper. Some studies have shown it to be a digestive aid, while others show that it’s a digestive irritant. It’s also been shown to contain an oil that has mild carcinogenic properties. Of course though, you can find a nutrition study to demonstrate whatever it may be that you are looking for.

Like any creative talents, chef’s often have their base and build recipes from there and often, in North America pepper is part of the standard mix.

Is pepper, or any single ingredient a necessity in all cooking?

A local chef, Doug McNish explains how he reduced his use of pepper by adding fresh chilies or ground cayenne pepper. I look forward to the amazing brunches Doug cooks up every Saturday morning at Brick Works market, one of the few spots where I know I can order whatever I want.

Like any of you who suffer from an allergy, I trust you find your favourites who can make food that works for you- and you stick with them!

Belmonte Raw‘s Carol Belmonte explained that pepper “has never been missed in any of [her] recipes, nor has anyone every commented that ‘Hey, there is black pepper missing in this dish.”

Feel Good Guru, a newer addition to the high raw, organic, veg loving restaurants in Toronto is also mostly black pepper free. In that family is also One Love Veg.

As I said, when you have a dietary limitation, whether it’s a nut allergy, a gluten-intolerance or soy challenges, you find the spots that work and you stick with them.

There are many more restaurants near and far I wish to bits I could eat at but unfortunately my black-pepper-challenged-self doesn’t let it be possible.

The local spots I most desire include LIVE Foods Bar and Rawlicious. The far and away favourites include CrudessenceReal Food DailyHU KitchenCandle 79Candle Cafe and the top of my list, Pure Food and Wine. If my own allergy would go away, I would hop a plane just to enjoy the delights of these awesome, UnDiet friendly, organic focused, conscious, low impact, high awesomeness, world-class plant-powered spots.

Since I can’t enjoy them, I sincerely hope you make a point to!

What is amazing about all of these places, is that given their attention to ingredients, you will mostly likely be able to get very specific answers about what is used in each dish. The fact that they can tell you is a huge benefit, even if that means you can’t eat what you want. Better to find out before you eat it, than after! These specialty restaurants are bound to attract “special needs” eaters, and of course can’t work with everybody’s needs and restrictions- but they sure do try.

We can’t really expect that every restaurant be able to accomodate for all needs, for totally selfish reasons, I just wish an ingredient that is so often offered on the table as an extra could perhaps be left out of a few dishes- though I imagine we’d all think that way about our own specific allergies.

Most restaurants offer options for dairy-free, nut-free, gluten-free, soy-free, vegetarian, vegan which is a very helpful menu bonus. As for me- and of course I get the odd allergy out, pepper is never one of the differentiators, so often I get presented with the BIG binder, stained from the kitchen with all the chef’s secrets and an invitation to flip through it to see what I can have.

If nut-free and gluten-free can trend, maybe black pepper-free can too. Anything is possible!

Question of the day: What are you greatest dining challenges when trying to stick with health goals, or work with dietary restriction?

9 Responses to “Dining Out With Allergies”

  1. Lo


    This is the first time I’ve heard of anyone with a pepper allergy. No offense, but you can’t expect every restaurant to leave pepper out of everything… Like you said, there’s potential to be allergic to anything we ingest. Restaurants would have to basically make everything on demand for every single customer if they wanted to ensure they could offer many options for everyone. A couple options is all I’ve had my entire life when eating out since I’m vegetarian. That’s never a surprise, though, and if I really want to make sure I have an option other than salad, I call ahead to make special arrangements. To expect anything more is a bit ridiculous.

  2. Patsy Telpner


    Thanks Meg. It was so frustrating to see all the great dishes and not be able to order them. I stopped using black pepper when we discovered the huge welt on my lip was from black pepper many years ago. While travelling in France recently it was a non issue. Black Pepper is not an ingredient that they use and found it strange that I would ask because it is on the table if you need it. I hope this gets passed on.

  3. pdw


    I know two people who are allergic to both black pepper and peppers/chilis. So not only can they not have black pepper, they cannot replace with chilis, cayenne, paprika, etc. Even prepared mustard is out because it contains paprika.

  4. Jen


    I have given up on eating out. We don’t have many healthy options in Hamilton where I can eat well and my husband can get what he likes. Our favourite restaurant that was willing to prepare my food to my needs closed down in April and moved to a new location and we haven’t been out since… I’ll probably miss it in the winter, but for now – come over to my patio, I’ll cook for you and your mom – pepper, egg, meat, gluten free – bring on the challenge :) I promise you won’t leave hungry :) Bon appetite!

  5. Amy


    Thanks Meghan! While I’m (probably) not allergic to black pepper, I’m nervous about eating out lately because it seems I might have an allergy to all things coconut, and milk protein (not lactase). I do like a steak here and there, but restaurants put butter on them… Seriously?! I’m with Jen here, I may have to give up on eating out for my own wellbeing.

  6. Victoria


    I, too, am allergic to black pepper. I’m also allergic to most nightshades, it seems, in one way or another. Potatoes not so much, hot peppers extremely. My allergy is one that if I’m around airborne black pepper I could die. Eating it isn’t much better. I have to carry around the epi-pens just in case. It makes eating outside the home (parties, events, etc) a nightmare because literally no one anticipates this. While I agree that I can’t expect every dish to be free of pepper for me, I do expect that when I go out to pay to have some sort of dish prepared. Not *everything* has to be made with pepper. Most places seem to even pepper corn on the cobb! Now that seems a bit much to me. I certainly feel your pain though. It is an extremely difficult thing to avoid, even when your cautious.

  7. marie


    I, too, have an allergy to pepper from the peppercorn. I have found that it is somewhat more common than people think. I only eat fish at a couple of restaurants (Drives friends and relatives crazy) that I can trust to cook it in a pan isolated from other food on the grill. My allergies to corn, egg, tomato, shellfish also complicate eating-out, but I have found that I really enjoy cooking since finding this challenging way of life.

    People say how do you know it is the pepper…Long story that I will try to cut short. I include this to warn others. Five years ago I had a squirrel making a nest in my attic. The handyman suggested putting a powder (sold at must home improvement stores) in my attic to chase them away. Thirty minutes after he place the powder in the attic, my eyes, face and throat started to burn. I hurried to get ready to go to a friends New Year’s eve party thinking it would be ok when I came home. Well it wasn’t! Short story is that I had to be out of my home for 4 months, coming back for a few hours at a time until I could tolerate it. The product placed in my attic was made from piperine. Several months later someone cooked chicken with a lot of freshly cracked pepper and my throat swelled. Thankfully, a double dose of Benadryl reversed the swelling.

  8. Roxanne


    I was dig nosed with a pepper allergy a few months ago and like you said eating out is nearly impossible. I am used t going without certain foods since I also have a gluten and orange allergy so I feel like I am always caving to other people to go out. The few times I have tried eating while out I have regretted it and am now on a strict if I do t make it I don’t eat it diet. I also believe other allergies are showing up now that I have elemenated certain things. I look forward to hearing any new information you have on pepper allergies. It is so nice to find others who don’t look at you like you are crazy!

  9. Renee


    Interesting. I would not go so far as to say that I am allergic to pepper, but I cannot tolerate it. If there is a little in food, I am usually okay. But if there is enough to where I can taste it, I feel like there are microscopic pickaxes digging in my throat and I cough, have difficulty breathing, my eyes water and my face turns red. But as soon as the pepper is cleared from my throat–usually in a few minutes–I am okay. Raw peppers do this also, even though they come from a completely different plant.


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