Can You Be Allergic to Hummus? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Hummus is a popular dip and spread made from chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and spices like garlic and cumin. It originates from Middle Eastern cuisine and has become a staple around the world for its nutritious and delicious taste. But some people experience allergic reactions after eating hummus. So can you actually be allergic to this staple food?

The answer is yes, you can be allergic to hummus. While not common, hummus allergies do occur for a variety of reasons. Some people are allergic to ingredients like chickpeas, sesame, or garlic in hummus recipes. Others have sensitivities to preservatives or pesticides. Environmental allergens like pollen can also cause cross-reactivity with chickpeas. Hummus allergies produce symptoms typical of food allergies like hives, swelling, vomiting, and anaphylaxis.

This article will cover the common causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments for hummus allergies. We’ll also provide tips on managing and preventing reactions to enjoy hummus safely. Key information includes:

  • Chickpeas, sesame, garlic and preservatives are potential allergens in hummus
  • Cross-reactivity with environmental allergies can trigger hummus reactions
  • Symptoms of hummus allergies range from mild to anaphylaxis
  • Allergy testing and food elimination diets diagnose hummus allergies
  • Avoiding problem ingredients and bringing epinephrine treats allergic reactions
  • Hummus alternatives, purees, and homemade recipes can allow safe enjoyment

What Causes Hummus Allergies?

Hummus is made from just a handful of ingredients – chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and seasoning. But some individuals can be allergic to one or more of these key components:

Chickpea Allergy

Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are the main ingredient in hummus. Allergy to legumes like chickpeas is a common trigger of hummus reactions. Chickpeas contain proteins that can cause an IgE-mediated allergic response in sensitive people. Reactions are often mild but anaphylaxis is possible in severe cases.

Cross-reactivity with environmental allergies like birch pollen or grass pollen can also trigger chickpea allergies. The proteins in chickpeas resemble allergenic proteins found in these airborne pollens. When the immune system reacts to the pollen, it confuses chickpea proteins as the allergen. This is called oral allergy syndrome.

Sesame Allergy

Tahini paste, made from ground sesame seeds, is another core hummus ingredient. Sesame allergies affect an estimated 0.1% of people and can cause severe reactions. The proteins in sesame seeds are able to bind strongly to IgE antibodies and release histamine. Just tiny amounts of sesame can set off reactions in highly allergic individuals.

Garlic and Spice Sensitivity

While less common, garlic and spices added for flavor can also elicit allergic reactions in hummus. Garlic allergy is caused by reactions to allicin compounds. Spices like cumin may cause symptoms in those with existing spice allergies. The amount of garlic and spices varies in hummus so those with mild sensitivities can often tolerate small quantities.

Preservatives and Pesticides

Preservatives like potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, and phosphoric acid are used in some commercial hummus products to extend shelf life. Chemical residues from pesticides and fertilizers used in chickpea farming may also remain on ingredients. These added chemicals can sometimes cause hypersensitivity reactions with symptoms similar to an allergy.

So in summary, chickpeas, sesame, garlic, spices, preservatives, and pesticides are potential allergens to be aware of with hummus. The specific ingredients, method of processing, and recipes can make triggers vary across different types and brands of hummus.

Hummus Allergy Symptoms

Allergic reactions to hummus produce symptoms typical of food allergies that can range from mild to severe:

  • Hives, itchy rash, or red welts on the skin
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat, or other body parts
  • Tingling or itchy sensations in the mouth
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain
  • Nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, facial pressure, itchy eyes
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting
  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness
  • Drop in blood pressure, rapid heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness, collapse
  • Anaphylaxis – a life-threatening reaction affecting multiple body systems

In anaphylaxis multiple symptoms develop rapidly after exposure to an allergen. Reactions usually start within minutes to two hours after eating hummus. The most dangerous symptoms include difficulty breathing and a drop in blood pressure. This is considered a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment with epinephrine.

Less severe symptoms like hives, itching, nausea, nasal congestion are more common with hummus allergies. The onset of milder reactions can occur up to 4 hours after exposure. Sometimes repeating exposure to small amounts of an allergen over time can cause sensitization and more serious symptoms to develop.

Diagnosing a Hummus Allergy

Diagnosing an allergy to hummus requires thorough testing and evaluation by an allergist. They will take your history, examine symptoms, and use tests like:

Allergy Skin Test – Prick skin testing applies small amounts of antigens from hummus ingredients to the skin. A positive bump indicates an IgE-mediated reaction. This helps identify which components of hummus you may be allergic to.

Blood Tests – A blood sample is analyzed for levels of IgE antibodies to chickpea, sesame, garlic, and spices. Elevated IgE indicates sensitization.

Oral Food Challenge – Eating hummus in the office under medical supervision can confirm an allergy. Symptoms elicited during the challenge help diagnose and assess severity.

Elimination Diet – Removing hummus and its ingredients from your diet for several weeks helps identify the cause by monitoring symptoms. Reintroducing the food causes a return of symptoms if you have a true allergy.

Keeping a detailed food and symptom diary is also useful for tracking reactions. Allergy testing combined with a thorough clinical history can provide definitive diagnosis of a hummus allergy. Identifying the specific triggers allows proper treatment and management.

Treating Hummus Allergies

The primary treatment for hummus allergies is avoiding the ingredients that cause reactions:

  • Read labels carefully – Check for your allergenic triggers like chickpeas, sesame, garlic, and spices in packaged hummus and dips. Avoid any products containing allergenic ingredients.
  • Ask about ingredients at restaurants – Inquire about how hummus is prepared in dining establishments to ensure no allergenic ingredients are used.
  • Wash surfaces and utensils – Thoroughly clean surfaces where hummus is prepared and avoid cross-contact with allergenic foods.
  • Carry emergency epinephrine – Have injectable epinephrine on hand at all times to treat anaphylaxis. Use immediately at the first signs of a serious reaction.
  • Antihistamines – Oral antihistamines like cetirizine or loratadine help relieve mild symptoms by blocking the effects of histamine released in allergic reactions.

Allergy Shots – Immunotherapy administered by an allergist can increase tolerance to some food allergens over time, like chickpeas. Several years of regular injections may be required.

The primary goal is avoiding the consumption of ingredients that trigger hummus allergies in each individual. Read labels carefully, monitor servings, and carry epinephrine to stay safe. For mild environmental pollen-related oral allergy syndrome, cooking chickpeas thoroughly can help reduce reactions. Talk to your allergist about using allergy medications and potential immunotherapies as well for additonal management.

Living with a Hummus Allergy

Hummus has become such a popular snack around the world. Is it possible to still enjoy a tasty chickpea dip if you have a hummus allergy? Here are some helpful tips:

  • Try alternate bean dips – Swap chickpeas for other legumes like white beans, lentils, or edamame to make safe bean dips and spreads. Ensure they don’t contain sesame or other allergenic spices as well.
  • Use seed and nut butters – Replace tahini with safe options like sunflower seed butter or almond butter. Combined with beans or vegetables this makes great hummus alternatives.
  • Make your own – Prepare homemade hummus with your own tolerable ingredients. Use canned chickpeas and make your own sesame-free seed “tahini” to control allergens.
  • Check packaged brands – Some commercial hummus brands make sesame-free, gluten-free, or other allergy-friendly varieties that eliminate certain allergens.
  • Puree well – If chickpea allergy is mild, purée hummus smoothly to help conceal allergens. Start with a small portion to test tolerance.
  • Enjoy ethnic options – Try baba ghanoush made with eggplant or Indian chana masala made without tahini for new flavorful dips without allergens.

With some substitutions and safer options, those with hummus allergies can still participate in enjoying this beloved dip. Home cooking allows control over ingredients. Always check labels carefully and monitor reactions when trying alternatives. Avoiding triggers completely remains essential for managing severe hummus allergies.

Hummus Allergy FAQs

What is oral allergy syndrome with hummus?

Some people experience itching and tingling sensations in the mouth after eating chickpeas due to oral allergy syndrome. This cross-reactivity occurs when proteins in chickpeas resemble allergenic proteins in pollen. Those with seasonal environmental allergies may be more susceptible. Cooking chickpeas thoroughly can help reduce this reaction.

Can hummus be contaminated with allergens during manufacturing?

Yes, potential cross-contact with other common food allergens like wheat, soy, milk, eggs, nuts, fish, and shellfish can occur during commercial hummus production. Allergen advisory labels should be present on packaging warning of possible contamination. Check labels carefully.

Does allergy to chickpeas mean you are also allergic to peanuts?

No, chickpeas and peanuts come from totally unrelated plants so are different allergens. But peanut allergy does increase likelihood of having an allergy to chickpeas and other legumes due to similar proteins. Those with peanut allergy should be tested for chickpea allergy before trying hummus.

Can you develop an allergy to hummus later in life?

Yes, it is possible to develop new food allergies including to ingredients in hummus at any stage of life, even if previously tolerated. Repeat or prolonged exposure to allergens found in hummus can cause sensitization leading to allergic reactions over time in susceptible individuals.

The Takeaway

While uncommon, some people do experience allergic reactions after eating hummus ranging from mild to anaphylactic. Chickpeas, sesame, and garlic are primary suspects, but other ingredients and contaminants can also trigger symptoms. Allergy testing identifies individual hummus triggers. Strict avoidance and carrying epinephrine treats reactions, but hummus alternatives and recipes can allow safe enjoyment for most. Work with your allergist to diagnose and manage hummus allergies properly.