A member of the parsley family, cumin is an aromatic, bitter, and flavorful spice with an abundant oil content. Cumin seeds are sold either whole or ground, and are available in three different varieties: black, amber, or white. Amber-colored cumin is the most frequently sold variation and is a popular culinary ingredient across the globe. The spice is most commonly used in Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Mexican cuisines, partially because it is a main ingredient in curry powder, a ubiquitous culinary condiment in the aforementioned areas of the world.
Recently, both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued an “allergy alert” to those allergic to peanuts and peanut products, as certain shipments of cumin products tested positive for undeclared peanut protein. While ground cumin is typically sold on its own, it is also found in spice mixes or kits, such as taco seasoning packets, and is often used sparingly in most meat and poultry dishes, as well as chilies and soups. As most “finished” food products are likely to contain ground cumin, and thus peanut protein, those who are allergic to peanuts should use caution when purchasing these items. However, according to foodsafety.gov, food products made before 2014 are not thought to be affected.
Peanut allergy, of course, is a certain type of food allergy to peanuts. Peanut allergies are among the most common types of food allergies, invoking symptoms that are often severe and fatal. Those afflicted with a peanut allergy are often advised to abstain from both peanuts and peanut-related products and to closely examine available information such as food labels and advertising messages.
FoodAllergy.org states that allergies to peanut products appear to be increasing dramatically. Statistics attained from the website note that the number of American children diagnosed with a peanut-related allergy tripled between the years 1997 and 2008. The United Kingdom and Canada also reported a marked increase in peanut allergies in children.
Peanut allergies are primarily chronic (lifelong) in duration, although approximately 20 percent of children diagnosed with a peanut allergy become immune at some point in their lifetime. Siblings of an allergic individual are more prone to be allergic themselves, leading experts to determine that these allergies are potentially genetic.
Individuals allergic to cumin should be cautioned as well. During an allergic reaction to cumin, the body reacts to profilin, a protein in the spice. Interactions involving both cumin and cumin seeds cause the immune system to respond by stimulating the production of immunoglobulin E, a histamine and antibody. It is this interaction that causes the subsequent physiological symptoms often experienced in cumin as well as peanut-related allergies.
People who are allergic to cumin and peanut-inclusive products often develop a type of skin rash, which is usually obtained through physical contact with the food item. The afflicted may experience a variety of symptoms, including tingly mouth, as well as itching of the lips, mouth, or tongue. It is also common for allergic individuals to experience physiological symptoms such as abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. In severe cases, anaphylaxis, or swelling of the throat, may cause a sudden drop in blood pressure and/or an episodic instance of a weak and rapid pulse, which is classified as a medical emergency.
Medical professionals recommend that individuals who suspect cumin as a potential allergen consult with their physician, who may prescribe a skin or blood test to determine the root cause of an allergic reaction. In a skin test, the allergen is injected under the skin, and if the individual is allergic a rash will develop at the injection site. In a blood test, the blood is studied for the presence of antibodies, which are produced during an allergic reaction.
Treatment of cumin allergies often involves the use of corticosteroids or antihistamines, both of which are designated toward relieving related symptoms. If the allergy is related to hay fever, alternative treatments include allergy shots or immunotherapy. Those stricken with anaphylaxis are often advised to carry an epinephrine auto-injector, which can be injected in the thigh during the initial signs of an allergic reaction.
As with most other medical conditions, cumin and peanut allergic reactions are preventable. Medical professionals recommend that individuals with a cumin or peanut allergy avoid the consumption of cumin, spices, and other foods that may potentially stimulate symptoms of the allergy, especially in light of the recent cross-contamination of cumin and peanuts. With that in mind, professionals strongly recommend the evaluation and analysis of ingredients in certain types of foods, particularly store-bought items and restaurant-made meals.