Mike Andrews

Peanuts are Evil

When I was a wee lad, a bite of Nabs crackers uncovered my peanut allergy. Since then, it's been a constant battle to avoid peanuts, and to uncover the other peanut-like things I'm allergic to.

After 32 years, you'd think I would have it figured out. But, no. We tried a new South Indian restaurant for lunch at work in Fall, 2006. I had the same dish I have at another South Indian place: the onion rava masala dosa, shooting for safety. After a few bites, my lips started to swell. Thinking, stupidly, that it was just the peppers or something, I kept going until I had completed about 30% of the thing. The inside of my mouth was beginning to itch.

By the time I got back to work, I was quite nauseous with an upset stomach-y, heartburn-y feeling. I took some rolaids (what would that do?) and drove home. At home, I took some benadryl, then spent some quality time curled up in front of the toilet. When the nausea passed enough for me to seem almost human, we noticed that my face had swollen, and my upper neck and chest were red. Later, I developed some hives. The whole ordeal lasted about five hours. At no point was there an indication of anaphylaxis, but it was very uncomfortable.

I called the restaurant to find out what was in that dosa. They were very forthcoming with the ingredients list. The only thing that jumped out as a possibility was lentils. Lentils! Thinking back, there was the occasional soup that I couldn't eat, but I blamed it on MSG or something else from processed food. I knew I was mildly allergic to chickpeas, and to soy... why not lentils.

Later that week, I cooked up a batch of lentils. Just one tiny lentil was enough to convince me I had the culprit. Lentils are now on the evil list. Damn lentils!

These are the allergies that I know about.


Peanuts are my oldest food nemesis. I don't consider my allergy to be incredibly severe. I can actually eat foods that are fried in peanut oil, as they do not contain the peanut protein -- but I choose to avoid them.

I can't stand the smell of peanuts. I'm not going to have a reaction just by being near an open jar of peanut butter, but it smells like itchy death to me. I can't understand why anyone would like the evil things.

On the flip side, the peanut isn't a nut. I'm not allergic to any nuts, that I know of. What I do have is a psychological resistance to nuts; a resistance that I chip away a little at a time. Here's my spectrum of nuttiness:

  1. Cashews: I love cashews. I've always been able to eat them. But, as long as I've eaten them, it's been difficult to find ones that weren't roasted in peanut oil. Recently, Trader Joe's started carrying cashews roasted in rice bran oil. Yes!
  2. Almonds: I really broke through with the tamari (more on that later) almonds from Whole Foods. Now, I'm totally hip to any almond.
  3. Walnuts: These took a bit longer. I still won't do walnuts in brownies or on ice cream, but they're great on a salad.
  4. Pecans: I'm mostly OK with pecans. Especially when they're candied. Sometimes, I just can't do it. No, I can't explain it.
  5. Hazelnuts: I haven't managed to conquer these. I will commit coffee heresy for the occasional hazelnut coffee, but I can't do the whole hazelnut. Yes, I'm crazy.
  6. Macadamia nuts: I can't do these either. No, I have no idea why. Yes, I'm still crazy.


A peanut isn't a nut. It's a legume. And, I'm also allergic to some of its close cousins. I love hummus, but I can only eat a little bit of it. I try to keep my distance from chickpeas, but if I have a few, it's not bad.


Soy is in everything. This was the trickiest allergy for me to discover. When I started googling the Internets (actually, at the time probably altavista-ing) some of the foods that were bothering me, there was all this stuff about MSG (monosodium glutamate) that kept getting in the way. I became convinced it was actually MSG I was sensitive to, and started avoiding it. Anything that had "spices" listed was suddenly a candidate.

It turned out that many of the processed foods that had MSG also had soy. And, soy was the real culprit. As reported on wikipedia, it's often hidden behind other names like hydrolyzed vegetable protein, "flavoring (natural and artificial)", and textured vegetable protein.

Like peanuts, it's the protein that's the problem. This isn't present in good soy sauce made from fermented soybeans, like Kikkoman, and it's not in soybean oil or soy lecithin. But it is in tofu, soy protein isolate, textured soy protein, and soy flour.

Peanuts are more of a problem healthwise, but soy is more of a concern, since it is in everything. Did you know that a blueberry muffin from Dunkin' Donuts has soy protein isolate in it? What the hell is up with that?


I just found out about this. They're so close to chickpeas, I shouldn't be surprised.

Split Peas

Did you know that split peas are different from good ol' green peas? I can actually eat regular peas. But, split pea soup is baaaaaaad bad bad!

Okay vs. Evil

Since it's the protein that's the problem, it can be hard to read a label to figure out what I'm allergic to. Here's a cheat sheet:


  • some soy sauce (kikkoman and San-J)
  • soybean oil
  • peanut oil is technically OK, but I really try to avoid it
  • walnuts
  • cashews
  • almonds
  • pistachios
  • black beans
  • pinto beans
  • kidney beans
  • cannelini beans
  • canola oil
  • safflower oil
  • rice bran oil
  • cottonseed oil
  • flax seed oil
  • palm kernel oil
  • sesame oil (make sure it has no peanuts!)
  • sunflower oil


  • peanuts
  • chickpeas
  • lentils
  • split peas
  • soy beans
  • soy protein isolate
  • soy flour
  • soy milk
  • textured soy protein
  • textured vegetable protein
  • hydrolyzed soy protein
  • hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • miso
  • edamame
  • flavoring (natural and artificial) should be considered suspect
  • boullion cubes almost universally suck

Information updated on Monday, 30 October 2006.