Sesame is a flowering plant that produces edible seeds. It is a common ingredient in cuisines around the world, from baked goods to sushi.
The exact number of people with sesame allergy is unknown. Several reports suggest this allergy has increased significantly worldwide over the past two decades. A 2010 survey showed that hundreds of thousands of Americans are affected by sesame allergy.
Current U.S. federal law does not require sesame to be declared by food manufacturers. FARE supports adding sesame to the list of “major food allergens” that must appear on ingredient labels of processed foods. In the meantime, FARE continues to expand its educational resources to support people with sesame allergy.
Sensitivity to sesame varies from person to person, and reactions can be unpredictable. Symptoms of a sesame allergy reaction can range from mild, such as hives, to severe, such as anaphylaxis.
If you have a sesame allergy, keep an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen®, Auvi-Q™ or Adrenaclick®) with you at all times. Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis.
To prevent a reaction, it is very important to avoid sesame. Sesame ingredients can be listed by many uncommon names.
Always read food labels and ask questions about ingredients before eating a food that you have not prepared yourself. Download this resource on how to identify sesame on food labels.
Avoid foods that contain sesame or any of these ingredients:
- Benne, benne seed, benniseed
- Gingelly, gingelly oil
- Gomasio (sesame salt)
- Sesame flour
- Sesame oil*
- Sesame paste
- Sesame salt
- Sesame seed
- Sesamum indicum
- Sim sim
- Tahini, Tahina, Tehina
*Studies show that most people with specific food protein allergies can safely eat highly refined oils made from those foods (examples include highly refined peanut and soybean oil). However, because it is not refined, people who are allergic to sesame should avoid sesame oil.
Sesame may also appear undeclared in ingredients such as flavors or spice blends. If you are unsure whether a product could contain sesame, call the manufacturer to ask about their ingredients and manufacturing practices.
Spice blend and flavoring recipes are considered proprietary information. The manufacturer may not be able to share the entire ingredient list. Instead, ask if sesame is specifically used as an ingredient.
- Asian cuisine (sesame oil is commonly used in cooking)
- Baked goods (such as bagels, bread, breadsticks, hamburger buns and rolls)
- Bread crumbs
- Cereals (such as granola and muesli)
- Chips (such as bagel chips, pita chips and tortilla chips)
- Crackers (such as melba toast and sesame snap bars)
- Dipping sauces (such as baba ghanoush, hummus and tahini sauce)
- Dressings, gravies, marinades and sauces
- Flavored rice, noodles, risotto, shish kebabs, stews and stir fry
- Goma-dofu (Japanese dessert)
- Herbs and herbal drinks
- Pasteli (Greek dessert)
- Processed meats and sausages
- Protein and energy bars
- Snack foods (such as pretzels, candy, Halvah, Japanese snack mix and rice cakes)
- Turkish cake
- Vegetarian burgers
Allergens are not always present in these foods and products, but sesame can appear in surprising places. Again, read food labels and ask questions if you’re ever unsure about an item’s ingredients.
In non-food items, the scientific name for sesame, Sesamum indicum, may be on the label.
- Cosmetics (including soaps and creams)
- Nutritional supplements
- Pet foods
What to Read Next
Managing life with a food allergy means reading packaged food labels—every time you purchase that food.