Lessons Learned: Buckwheat Allergy

About a month ago, in my ongoing quest to eat naturally, I decided to try alternative grains. I don’t view wheat as a villain, but since I’m of African and Native American ancestry, some grains should be more compatible with my body than others. Since I’ve reduced my carbohydrates, what I get should be digestible and pleasant to taste. In that wheat is kind of so-so and neutral.

So I went to my favorite staple and bulk foods merchant, and got some buckwheat flour. A few days later, I made the most awesome smelling two loaves of bread I’ve made in my life with oat flour, buckwheat flour, and minimal wheat flour. I broke out the butter, and my family and I enjoyed it very much. I noticed though, that it tasted a bit peppery to me. I was warned that buckwheat has a “strong” taste, and I thought this was what they meant.

Four or five bites in though, my lips and throat were burning, and my esophagus began to spasm. After a very painful upchuck, I was still spasming, and I noticed that my skin was starting to itch. I went to the emergency room, and was told that I very likely have a buckwheat allergy.

Buckwheat allergy is not so common in the west, but is more common in Asia, where it is used more often.  Apparently, exposure to sobakowa from pillows and mats can “max out” a person’s tolerance if they have the allergy, and cause extreme reactions when they eat buckwheat, even if they don’t break out from touching hulls or fibers.  This is one reason it can be a surprise.  Someone who has used sobakowa pillows and tatami mats without a bad reaction would be caught unawares when eating buckwheat noodles.

So if you’re introducing new foods into your diet, make sure that you are prepared for the possibility of discovering new allergies.  Have a plan for getting emergency care quickly.

2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned: Buckwheat Allergy

  1. Catherine

    Hi there

    About 10 years ago I bought a buckwheat pillow to help neck ache. Settled down for the night and within minutes my chest closed and I had an asthma attack. I got rid of the pillow. Perhaps a year later I bought a prepared soup from a revered health person. Cooked up the soup, had a mouthful and immediately a reaction but this time, as with you, in my mouth and throat. I read the ingredients – buckwheat. And so it goes, anything multigrain the label has to be read thoroughly. But that said, I have even read the label (I bought a brownie from a health shop) only to discover as soon as I took a bite, voila – instant reaction, it was not included on the list of ingredients.

    Even just yesterday I attended an Organic fair (I live in Cape Town, South Africa), I tasted a few things at a stand, asking first if there was buckwheat. She assured me the ones on the right of the stand were buckwheat but those have none. I tried a few, all good and then tried the nori/chili one. At first I thought it was the chili but, you will know, the sensation is very different and very immediate. Luckily there was an Ayurvedic stand selling allergy tablets, took two of those. Next stand had jars of honey selling at around $32 a jar! Took a huge tasting teaspoon of that (honey is an excellent anti-histamine) and then had a swig of aloe juice further on. The worst is feeling the reaction go down your oesophagus and into your belly. I recovered within an hour but still it was not pleasant and always leaves me feeling totally wiped out.

    Over the years I have had extremely severe allergic reactions, once my GP even paid a home visit in the middle of the night! Through a process of elimination I realised I was allergic to buckwheat. The problem with buckwheat is that it is invisible in food. I am absolutely vigilant about reading labels, or if buying from health shops checking everything. I have also become wise to different cultures and their preferences for buckwheat so know what to avoid in restaurants or at functions etc.

    I absolutely love health foods but unfortunately some people do not think to list the ingredient, largely through ignorance. If you do research you will see how big buckwheat allergies are in Japan and the East.

    Be vigilant, read labels and always check – even that is not enough. I will be in Chicago in three weeks time visiting my daughter. I will be prepared with anti-histamines, and staying well away from buckwheat pancakes!


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