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Dining Out With Allergies


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?

79 Responses to “Dining Out With Allergies”

  1. Agata said…
    Yesss! I’m allergic to black pepper and that’s a tough one! My tongue starts swelling, burning, I can’t eat nothing for about 45 minutes, just drink water. My mom and grandma stopped using black pepper to cook, they just gave out pepper mills at the table. Personally, I have never bought black pepper and both ex husband and my man here have pepper shakers. The difference is, I am addicted to Mexican and Indian food, so I love using liberal amounts of dried habanero powder (plus other peppers, dry and fresh and hot salsa). My ex did not want any on the European food I cooked, my husband now got used to it and is now craving hot food too, no matter what type of cuisine. Just last week, I made carbonara with habanero pepper, che divine bontà. Breakfast today, scrambled eggs with habanero powder, with arepas and salsa, que rico. Super hard asking for dishes with no black pepper, especially in Rome.
  2. Marie E said…
    3 wks ago I went to allergist due to sinus and breathing problems worsening last few years. Results revealed numerous food allergies: black pepper, garlic, oats, hops, beef, pecans and hazelnuts. Doctor said probably reason I had intestinal distress after eating. Needless to say, alot of changes to my diet. I am just leaving out all items for now not worrying about substitutes.
  3. Diane Miller said…
    I noticed that I felt sick to my stomach after eating a BLT and felt the same after eating chicken noodle soup. My husband seasoned both meals using a pepper grinder. As a single person I ate rather plain, grilled foods. Life changed after I got married. I don't think he believed my nausea and stomach ugh at first but after a few test trials we confirmed that I should avoid pepper. I'm also allergic to annatto and pine oils. These cause me to experience skin rashes, headaches, hives and in some instances I'll get a major headache then fall into a deep sleep. Healthy eating means different things to different people. Eat healthy!
  4. Claire farnell said… April 6, 2020
    I’m also allergic to black pepper. I don’t think I get any symptoms but the allergy testing said I am. I do get cold sores a lot though and have all my life. After reading these other people’s stories I will see what happens when I grind some on my food. If I can avoid black pepper and NEVER get a cold sore again, it’s worth a try. Ps... my husband is a black pepper junky and he has three pepper mills all to himself.

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