Alexis Manning is joining the Can I Eat? Team as the go-to guy for nut-allergy reviews
By Nut-allergy Alexis
My name is Alexis Manning and I’ll be joining the Can I Eat It? Team as their nut-allergy reviewer. You’ll see me referred to on the site and on the app as “Nut-allergy Alexis”.
I was lucky enough to only have quite mild nut allergies as a child but unfortunately developed severe anaphylactic reactions to peanuts as a teenager. I consider myself lucky that the allergy became severe only when I was old enough to look after it myself, and I have a lot of sympathy with parents trying to do the right thing for their nut-allergic children.
Labelling has improved a lot in recent years, and manufacturers are using ‘may contain nuts’ labels more sparingly. However, it is important to not get blasé and to remember to check labels, particularly on higher-risk foods such as chocolates, desserts, and spicy foods. Spicy foods are a particular risk since many people with nut allergies are aware of a ‘bad taste’ or an odd sensation in the mouth as the first warning of a reaction, and of course spices can mask that.
Allergy labelling is an EU legal requirement for any product, but only covers intended ingredients. Unless you buy products from a manufacturer who specialises in nut-free food and uses nut-free factories then there is always a risk of cross-contamination.
Some companies label their foods ‘may contain’, but these declarations are voluntary, so if they are not present there may still be a risk. The problem here is that you have no way of knowing whether the warning is a bottom-covering exercise or whether there is a significant risk. For example, if a line is used for more than one product and one of those contains nuts, then it is clear that most of the products will be fine but some unknown number may be contaminated. A very small amount can be required to start a reaction.
Practically, manufacturers can also change their factories or processes at any time so you have no guarantee of safety even if a ‘may contains’ product has been fine in the past. I tell people that I treat them the same way I would a label that said “May contain traces of ground glass and dog poo”. The bottom line is the manufacturer is making the effort to warn you that they cannot guarantee their product is safe for you, and the only safe thing to do is to avoid it.
When eating out, always give the restaurant warning in advance. Many places are able to cater for people with nut allergies given enough time; if you simply turn up you may find yourself sent away. When you arrive, mention it again to the waiter and ideally check that it has been discussed with the chef. Some people prefer to talk to the chef directly. Again, desserts are always higher risk so I always recommend people take an active approach and ask the waiter to check with the kitchen which ones are safe.
People with nut allergies often get short shrift when it comes to chocolate. As a temptress chocolate is without parallel, but those with nut allergies are sometimes left sighing wistfully, thinking of what might have been. There are a variety of ‘mainstream’ chocolates which do not have nuts as a declared ingredient, but this always leaves the risk of cross-contamination.
Even then it is difficult to get plain chocolate bars that are safe for those with nut allergies, and so some people prefer to get chocolate from nut-free manufacturers. Kinnerton is well known for making character chocolates for children, but the one reviewed is targeting the adult market and is made in one of their specialist factories. It is not only guaranteed nut free, but also dairy free, gluten free, egg free, and suitable for vegans. Indeed, you could be forgiven for asking what on earth is left to put in it.
At 55% cocoa solids it’s a good quality chocolate with a slightly bitter aftertaste, presumably a compromise between making a chocolate intended for eating versus cooking. It is suitable for melting and using as a base for your own nut-free recipes. The only criticism I can make of it is that the bitterness may not be to everyone’s tastes, particularly children.
That said, I admit to having no problems in chomping down a whole bar at a time and would recommend it to any fans of dark chocolate.
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