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Understanding Sesame Allergies in Babies

February 01, 2022 4 min read

A hidden and often dangerous ingredient, sesame has been labeled as the 9th most common food allergy, with rates increasing rapidly within children over the last few decades. 

Until 2021, sesame was not included as one of the US Food and Drug Administration’s top allergens. This meant that sesame was able to legally escape labeling and was often identified as “natural flavoring”, “spice blends”, or with lesser-known terms such as “tahini”. 

But with the Food Allergy, Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act, legislation has required sesame to be added to the existing list of eight major allergens subject to plain-language labeling requirements by the FDA.

With sesame allergies increasing at such a fast rate, SpoonfulONE is here to help educate parents on the facts and statistics surrounding this food allergy.

How Common Is A Sesame Allergy In Babies?

Across the United States, there are 1.5 million people suffering from a sesame allergy, which accounts for up to 0.5% of the population. Sesame allergies most commonly develop in childhood before the age of 3, but they can be developed at any age. 

And every year, food allergy rates are increasing. The CDC reports that the prevalence of food allergies in children has increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011, with as many as 6 million children in the United States developing some form of food allergy. 

What Does A Sesame Allergy Look Like

Affected by both genetic and environmental factors, a food allergy occurs when your child's immune system decides that a certain food is a "danger" to their health. Their immune system starts sending out immunoglobulin E (or IgE) antibodies that react to the food and cause an allergic reaction.

Common triggers of a sesame allergy include sesame oil, sesame seeds, and other sesame products included in most foods as “natural flavoring” or “spice blends”. 

These reactions can range from mild, like sneezing or itching, to severe, like swelling or anaphylaxis that results in difficulty breathing and a sudden drop in blood pressure that sends the body into shock. 

Most food-related allergy symptoms occur within minutes of eating, but allergic reactions can still occur within 2-4 hours of ingestion. Signs that your baby has developed a sesame allergy may include:

  • Stomach distress including vomiting, cramps, indigestion, or diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
  • Repetitive cough, hoarse voice, or tightness in the throat
  • Hives, red skin, or swelling around the face, mouth, or tongue
  • Confusion, dizziness, or loss of consciousness
  • Weak pulse
  • In rare cases, anaphylaxis

If your child has shown a reaction to sesame, you should have your pediatrician test for a food allergy. Common testing methods include a skin prick test, IgE testing, and an oral food challenge. 

Long-Lasting Effects Of A Sesame Allergy

A sesame allergy is often lifelong, with only around 20% to 30% of infants outgrowing this allergy in childhood. 

Having a sesame allergy also puts you at a higher risk of obtaining other food allergies. One study shows that more than 80% of those allergic to sesame report having allergies to multiple foods. Another study shows that sesame allergies often develop alongside peanut allergies and tree nut allergies in children. 

Lastly, studies have shown that children with a food allergy are two to four times as likely to develop other allergic conditions, such as asthma or eczema.

How To Manage Sesame Allergies

More than one in three children and adults with sesame allergy have reported experiencing severe allergic reactions. That makes it essential to eliminate all sources of sesame from your little one’s plate if they have been diagnosed with this allergy. 

Though it can be difficult to currently identify sesame on an ingredient list, it is often found in many common foods such as:

  • Hummus, sauces, and dressings
  • Baked goods including bagels, bread, and rolls
  • Granola cereals
  • Tortilla or pita chips
  • Crackers
  • Margarine
  • Processed meats and sausages
  • Pretzels and rice cakes
  • Soups
  • Certain flavored rice or noodles
  • Asian cuisine, including Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese
  • Foods containing sesame oil, salt, paste, seed, and flour
  • Hidden sesame in benne, tahini, gingelly, halvah or sesamol

Until January 1, 2023, sesame may appear undeclared in ingredients such as flavors or spice blends, which is when the FASTER Act takes effect. Be sure to closely examine food labels, and when in doubt, stay safe and avoid feeding this food to your child if a known allergy exists. If you are unsure whether a food contains sesame or sesame derivatives, you can also call the manufacturer to ask about their ingredients and manufacturing practices.

How to Avoid A Sesame Allergy in Babies

We know that no parent wants to see their child suffer from food allergies, but unfortunately, there is no guarantee that they can be avoided. 

However, there is still hope. Groundbreaking clinical studies, like LEAP and EAT, have taught us that babies who were given potentially allergenic foods as a regular part of their diet were less likely to develop a food allergy. 

According to the AAP and the USDA’s latest guidelines, you can (and should!) start introducing allergenic foods like sesame to your baby alongside other solids. In fact, experts now consider it safe for your child to start allergen introduction as early as four months, rather than later in life. 

At SpoonfulONE, we believe regular, consistent exposure to common allergens in the diet throughout early childhood is key to staying healthy.