It seems over the last 10 years the increase in allergies is becoming more and more prominent. I remember 10 years ago serving in restaurants and rarely encountering someone with a food allergy of any kind.
Now it’s a whole new ball game, guests with allergies are becoming more common than guests who ask me “So what’s your other job?”. I will say that there’s a small number of these people who claim that they have allergies to something in particular, purely for the fact that they just don’t like it (I lived with a girl who said she was allergic to mushrooms, where in fact she just couldn’t stand them).
Restaurants are becoming more adaptive to diners with allergies by offering menu items that are gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, etc. More restaurants are now creating menu’s that will either indicate that a dish is free of certain allergies, or will even have separate menus for those who have some of the more common allergies.
But even with these in place do you personally know the specifics of allergies?
Knowing even just the basics will help you with “Menu recommendations” and can save you a trip to the kitchen to ask if you have gluten-free pasta, or a trip to the bar to ask if our 2% milk is dairy-free (I’m not poking fun, but believe it or not I have overheard a fellow server ask this question).
If you are a little hazy when it comes to knowing what foods cause allergies, let me give you a list of the more common ones.
Both the yolk and white part of an egg have allergic properties. Plopped out by hens, ducks, geese, ostrich, quails and even some other bizarre creatures.
Potential sources of eggs in a restaurant:
- Baked goods or baking mixes
- Battered and fried foods
- Candy and chocolate
- Creamy dressings, salad dressings, spreads
- Fat substitutes
- Fish mixtures
- Egg washed items
- Meat mixtures like hamburgers, hot dogs, meatballs and meatloaf
- Quiche, soufflé
- Béarnaise and Hollandaise sauces
- Soups and broths
A relative of tree nuts and part of the legume family, this is one of the most common of all allergies.
Potential sources of peanuts in a restaurant:
- Baked goods like cakes, cookies, donuts, and pastries
- Ice cream and sundae toppings
- Dried salad dressings and soup mixes
- Ethnic foods like Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Szechuan & some others
- Peanut oil (for cooking or frying)
- Meat substitutes for vegetarians
- Bar snacks (especially if it’s literally a bowl of peanuts)
It is not uncommon for young children to eventually just stop being allergic to milk as they grow, the reason people are allergic is generally from the protein found in the milk.
Potential sources of milk in a restaurant:
- Artificial butter, butterfat/flavor/oil, ghee, margarine
- Baked goods and baking mixes
- Buttermilk, cream, dips, salad dressings, sour cream
- Egg/fat substitutes
- Flavored coffee, coffee whitener, non-dairy creamer
- Gravy and sauces
- Meats such as patés and sausages
- Mashed or scalloped potatoes
Mustard is a flowering plant which is in the same family as cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, turnips, radishes, broccoli and fodder crops (I only just learned of who mustard was related to when I was doing research for this post, I found this pretty interesting).
Potential sources of mustard in a restaurant:
- Seasonings and flavoring agents
- Soups, stock, sauces, gravies, and marinades
- Curries, chutney
- Water binding agents (for texture control)
- Mustard oil
- Mustard leaves
Most commonly in this category, you will find fish, crustaceans (crab, crayfish lobster, shrimp, prawns) and shellfish (clams, mussels, scallops, oysters). Apart from the obvious dishes like oysters or calamari, below is what you may find some of these in.
Potential sources of seafood/shellfish in a restaurant:
- Dips, spreads, imitation crab/lobster meat
- Fried rice, paella, spring rolls
- Pizza toppings
- Salad dressings
- Wine and beer (sometimes used as a fining agent)
Sesame seeds are tiny, oval-shaped seeds which are edible and can be used to make oil. The seeds themselves can be white or black in color.
Potential sources of sesame seeds in a restaurant:
- Baked goods
- Hamburger buns, bread & bagels
- Bread crumbs, breadsticks, cereals, crackers
- Dips, patés and spreads like hummus
- Dressings, gravies, marinades, salads, sauces, soups
- Flavored rice, noodles, stews, and stir fry
- Processed meats and sausages
- Sesame oil, sesame salt
- Vegetarian burgers
Although I don’t personally meet a lot of guests who tell me they are allergic to soy, it still is a common allergy. Soy is from soybeans which are a legume, they can be made into soy flour, soy milk, tofu, oil, and a range of other products too.
Potential sources of soy in a restaurant:
- Baked goods and baking mixes like bread, bread crumbs, and cookies
- Bean sprouts
- Chilli, pasta, stews, taco filling, tamales
- Cooking spray, margarine, vegetable shortening, vegetable oil
- Dressings, gravies, and marinades
- Processed and prepared meats burgers, meat analogs, patties
- Vegetarian meat substitutes
- Sauces like teriyaki, Worcestershire and obviously soy
- Soy cheese
- Soups and broths
- Spreads, dips, peanut butter
If people say to me that they are allergic to tree nuts, I will recommend something that is completely nut-free (because some people who have tree nut allergies can still have peanuts). Some of the more common tree nuts include almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts.
Again for me, if people are allergic to tree nuts I believe they should also avoid peanuts.
Potential sources of tree nuts in a restaurant:
- Baked goods such as cakes, cookies, crackers, donuts, pastries, pies, and baking mixes
- Cereal and Muesli
- Ice cream, sundae toppings, frozen yogurt
- Pad thai, satay, chili, gravies
- Extracts (like pure almond extract etc)
- Tree nut and/or peanut oils
- Nut-flavored coffees and liqueurs such as Frangelico (hazelnut flavored) and Amaretto (almond-flavored)
- Salads and salad dressings
- Barbecue and pesto sauces
- Spreads and butters (like Nutella)
- Vegetarian dishes
This one, I find, has to be the most common of all allergies I come across when I’m serving tables. Wheat is a type of grass that’s ground into flour, then used to make a vast variety of food products.
Potential sources of wheat in a restaurant:
- Baking powder
- Most baked goods like bread, bread crumbs, cakes, cereals, cookies, crackers, donuts, muffins, pasta, baking mixes
- Battered fried foods
- Binders and fillers in processed meat, poultry, and fish products
- Chicken and beef broth
- Ice cream
- Salad dressings
- Sauces like chutney, soy sauce, and tamari
- Pie fillings and puddings
It’s a good idea to have a basic grasp on the more common food allergies, and although from restaurant to restaurant recipes and how things get made are different, knowing this will help you to identify potential allergy threats.
One last note is that if you are in doubt, DO NOT GUESS, the last thing you want is for a guest of yours to be rushed to a hospital because you thought the apple pie was wheat-free. Never be afraid to ask first.
Hope you have a wicked awesome day.