Inspiration from Meghan

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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. Terry said…
    Up until my early 20’s I would occasionally get this horrible aching in my throat and chest that was so painful it would hurt to move. It would last about a week and then finally go away. The last time it happened when i was about 21 I went to the ER and they said I had inflammation of my esophagus. I finally realized it was after eating black pepper. I stopped using it and didn’t have it happen anymore. I’m in my 50s now and over the years it has happened occasionally but not as bad. Usually after eating at a restaurant, and after a bite or two i can feel the tingling in my throat and stop immediately and take an allergy medication and tums. I just find it so hard when eating out. Most places act like I’m weird for asking if the food is seasoned with black pepper. So I hate asking, but dont want the after effects. I really wish restaurants would leave the seasoning with pepper up to the customer after they serve it, so that people with sensitivities can have what they would like to order and not just the things that dont have pepper included. So glad to see that I’m not the only one with this problem.
  2. Lizzy said…
    So glad to know it’s not just me who can’t eat black pepper without having a mouth that feels like it’s on fire little ulcers all over it that make it very uncomfortable to eat and drink. and severe stomach ache,
  3. Wendy said…
    My reaction to black pepper is in the form of a cystitus. Very distressing so i avoid it like the plague
  4. I found out I was allergic to black pepper in 1976, while st boot camp in the Marine corps. when my throat did swell up and shut, and it acted like a asthma attack. I have a EpiPen. I love my beef, chicken, fish, lamb, pork, duck and venison. Gotten to the point, that I can't eat out at all because it's just too much of a hassle. Even everyday shopping for ketchup, salad dressing, any thing that is pre-prepared, and it's very frustrating cuz it even says spices on it instead of listing the ingredients I know that there's black pepper in it. It cannot even have the word spices on the ingredients. throughout my life I have been made to feel that, it's made up, it's not real, or I'm just looking for attention is very very frustrating. Or just the fact the common statement said to me: "nobody is really allergic to black pepper", "there's so little in it, you'll never know it", "when are you going to quit being like this". this happen so often in my life, I feel like a social outcast, cuz no matter where you go any gathering, there's food. And where there's food, people expect you to eat at no matter what's in it.
  5. Shell said…
    I haven't met or heard of anyone else with a pepper allergy. I carry an epipen due to my throat swelling from peppercorns. I can't tolerate all other peppers as well but my reaction isn't life threatening. I'm also allergic to capsicum. Only late last year at my daughters graduation my face swelled due to cross contamination. I haven't had that symptom before and I've had this allergy for over 20 years. It seems to be getting worse. When i go out for dinner, I usually state I want chicken or steak cooked in a clean separate pan and not on the grill. Sometimes they will agree but other times they say no. I just don't eat if they say no.
  6. Heary said…
    Yes! My mother is severely allergic to black pepper and it’s EXHAUSTING trying to make sure that she doesn’t eat any! Most of the time, restaurants will leave it out and accommodate her but there are several dishes that pre-prepared spices that include black pepper. Why? I’m with you...I haven’t used black pepper in 20 years because of my Mom’s allergy and NOT once has anyone complained! I hate it so much because how sick it makes my Mom! Some sort of awareness needs to happen. Why not let diners add it and leave it out of dishes and prepared blends/sauces? Hopefully things will change some day!
  7. Lindsay said…
    I’ve recently been having a problem with black pepper, does anyone recommend any spaghetti sauces and ketchups and bbq sauces that are safe? They all just say “spices” on it
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      You can contact the companies and ask them if there are black pepper in the products. Another route is to make your own: and
  8. Cindy said…
    I feel for you all! I don't have a problem with black pepper but with a very common additive: processed citric acid (that doesn't actually mean lemon juice - surprise!) Citric acid is very commonly used as a preservative and flavor booster. It is included in most packaged sauces, dressing and marinades AND it doesn't have to be explicitly listed on the label! Lindsay said that black pepper can be listed under the catch-all term "spices" and so can citric acid. It can also be hidden under the term "natural flavoring." Citric acid can even be made organically, so shopping organic is no protection in this regard. Eating out is a nightmare. Once I find items at a restaurant I can eat without problems, I make notes! Most of the time, (as you mention, Meghan) making my own is the way to go. Best wishes to you all!
  9. Jennie Gilpin said…
    It's so refreshing to see others with a black pepper allergy! I've had it for just over 10 years - when it started to become a 'trendy' ingredient in the UK! Growing up it was always an option on the dinner table not a compulsory ingredient - I didn't like it so didn't have it! Thankfully it's more a hyper-sensitivity allergy as opposed to a more serious reaction but nonetheless incredible frustrating. I get a painful mouth but no swelling (touch wood) but I do end up sounding like Marge Simpson's sisters with a deep croaky voice. The worst is when known 'safe' foods change their recipe and add black pepper :( In the UK they are now much more vigilant with allergies as, sadly, a couple of people died last year due to food chains not properly labelling their food.
  10. Tiffany said…
    “We 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” —Finally people who have the same reaction as me! I was eating spicy curry and my lip felt weird and then I looked in the mirror and saw my upper lip swollen and it hurt. I went to the ER and the Dr. said that it looks like I have herpes. I assured him that I didn’t. I explained to him that my lip became swollen as I ate food and that it was an allergic reaction to the food I just ate. He didn’t believe me. I stay away from curry because I wasn’t sure which spice I was allergic to. Well yesterday I ate foods with black pepper and my lip swelled up just like before! I googled and found this page. So, thank you for sharing and I now know that I am not crazy! BTW if have several food allergies and have different reactions on different parts of my body. I am very aware when I have a reaction to foods.

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