Allergies at a Chinese Restaurant

Food Allergy and Chinese Food

Having various food allergies should prevent a person from safely eating at Chinese restaurants..

Many people enjoy eating at Chinese restaurants. With the exotic flavors, colorful food and strange yet enticing décor, eating out at Chinese restaurants can bring an exciting change to our mundane lives. However, if a person suffers from any number of different food allergies, then eating at Chinese restaurants may not be the best idea. This is because Chinese food relies on a wide variety of flavors – some subtle and others not so subtle – which includes a variety of highly allergenic foods such as peanut, soy and sesame.

In addition, flavors such as monosodium glutamate may cause symptoms that can mimic an allergic reaction.

If you suffer from any of the following food allergies, it would be best to avoid eating at Chinese restaurants, as well as other Asian style restaurants.

Peanut Allergy

Peanuts are used in many Asian style dishes, especially Chinese and Thai food restaurants. In many cases, peanut ingredients may not always be obvious – and therefore it isn’t possible to completely avoid contact with peanuts in these restaurants by simply ordering dishes that wouldn’t seem to have peanuts as an ingredient.

Peanuts are cooked in different ways in Asian cultures than in Westernized cultures – boiling and pickling is more common in Asia than the usual dry roasting in the West. These different cooking methods change the peanut protein to make them less allergenic, which is one reason why peanut allergy is rare in Asia.

However, once a person is sensitized to peanut, the cooking method doesn’t matter – peanut protein in any form can still cause an allergic reaction.

Peanut oil is a different story. In most cases peanut oil doesn’t cause allergic reactions in people with peanut allergy. This is because in most cases, peanut oil is heat processed, which destroys the peanut protein.

Some peanut oils can contain peanut protein if the oil is cold-pressed. How can a person tell the difference? Cold-pressed peanut oils are often considered gourmet – meaning they give the food flavor.

Learn all about peanut allergy.

Soy Allergy

Soy is found in almost any package or processed food, and is particularly difficult to avoid, especially in a restaurant setting. In Chinese restaurants, it’s not just about avoiding the soy sauce, tofu, miso soup and edamame. Just about any dish in a Chinese restaurant would have some amount of soy protein. Like most peanut oils, soy (vegetable) oil doesn’t typically contain soy protein, so it is safe for people with soy allergy.

Luckily, while soy allergy is considered a common food allergy, most of the time this food allergy is outgrown in early childhood, and is quite rare in adulthood.

Learn more about soy allergy.

Sesame Allergy

Sesame allergy is becoming a more common form of food allergy, and sesame is a common spice used in Chinese restaurants.

Sesame seeds are fairly easy to spot as they are used as garnishes on salads, soups and entrees. However, sesame oil is used in many Chinese food dishes to add flavor, which means that it contains sesame protein, and is therefore unsafe for people with sesame allergy.

Learn more about sesame allergy.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) Allergy

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer added to many foods in a Chinese restaurant. While people can certainly react to MSG, it is doubtful that this reaction actually represents an allergic process. Instead, reactions to MSG more likely represent a food intolerance referred to as the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. People suffering from this condition may experience facial flushing, numbness and tingling of the arms, palpitations and drowsiness. While this reaction is not likely a dangerous condition, it certainly isn’t pleasant.

Find out more about MSG allergy.


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Gangur V, Kelly C, Navuluri L. Sesame Allergy: A Growing Food Allergy of Global Proportions. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2005;95:4–11.

Bush RK, Taylor SL. Adverse Reactions to Food and Drug Additives. In: Adkinson NF, Yunginger JW, Busse WW, et al, eds. Middleton’s Allergy Principles and Practice. 7th edition. Philadelphia: Mosby Publishing; 2008:1169-1188.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition. 

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