A red strawberry is allergenic? How about white ones?
Red strawberries cause allergies, but white ones do not… This is the most concrete discovery about strawberry allergies to date which is credited to a group of biochemists at Lund University in Sweden. While examining the proteins in different varieties of strawberries, the group found out that a white strawberry variety called, Sofar, had relatively no traces of the suspected protein allergen. Right now, Swedish breeders are working on making the white strawberry just as flavorful as the red ones.
So if you have an allergy to strawberries, pick the white ones instead, because the allergen found in these sweet plump juicy fruits is surprisingly related to its red color, although the group is still investigating why this is so.
What their research does tell is that the strawberry allergen is similar to the allergen in birch pollen. If you have birch pollen allergies, it is common for you to develop secondary food allergies to strawberries or other foods, but if you have a strawberry allergy, it would not mean that you will develop an allergy to birch pollen though.
What are strawberries, and what are they used for?
Strawberries are not fruits actually because their seeds grow on the outside, on their skin, unlike real fruits that have their seeds on the inside. Strawberry plants are runners and do not produced by seeds. There are about 12 species of these low, runner-bearing perennial herbs that are native to cooler regions. Strawberry plants are cultivated primarily as ornamentals and, of course, for their sweet red fruit. They are eaten raw or used in desserts. Often, they are used to make preserves. The fruits are used in various herbal treatments, and used cosmetically in skin-care items. The leaves are eaten raw, cooked or used as a tea substitute, and the flowers sometimes serve as a compost activator.
What are the symptoms of a strawberry allergy?
The symptoms of a strawberry allergy are similar to food allergy reactions.
The most common symptom is oral allergy syndrome, characterized by allergic reactions in the mouth and throat. There can be tingling, itching, and swelling in the mouth, lips, tongue, throat, and palate. Watery itchy eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing can accompany the reactions. Those with hay fever are most susceptible, especially spring hay fever due to birch pollen, and summer hay fever due to ragweed pollen.
Strawberries can also trigger skin allergies such as pruritis (itching), urticaria (hives), and contact dermatitis. The symptoms can also manifest as respiratory conditions like allergic rhinitis and asthma.
More severe symptoms include vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, and on rare occasions, life threatening anaphylactic reactions such as swelling of the throat, wheezing, and trouble breathing.
How do you manage an allergy to strawberries?
The safest way to manage a strawberry allergy is not to eat strawberries at all. Stay away from strawberry jam, dried strawberries, strawberry candies, and anything with strawberries in it. Although the white strawberry variety is known to contain less of the allergen, it is still better to be safe. Substitute your strawberry craving with other fruits that you are not allergic to.
Wear a Medic Alert bracelet to alert others that you are allergic to strawberries. Carry medications with you as well in case of an allergic attack.
Oral Allergy Syndrome vs. Food Allergies
You don’t hear of fruit allergies near as much as allergies to the other “major” allergens, but obviously, strawberry and other fruit allergens are definitely a problem. Symptoms can range from itchy mouth or lips, to hives and rashes, to anaphylactic shock.
In fact, even though strawberries aren’t listed as one of the eight major allergens, there are some definite guidelines concerning strawberries. The recommendation for introducing strawberries to babies is at one year, longer if there is a history of allergies in the family. According to Wholesomebabyfood.com, some stage 2 baby foods do contain strawberries, but they are cooked which makes them more tolerable. Be careful with this, though, if there are allergies in your family. If you are making your own baby food, be careful as well, as commercial processing usually can get foods to a higher temperature. The higher temperature is necessary to break down the proteins which cause the allergic symptoms.
This however, pertains more to Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS). This is the type of allergy that is related to pollen, with strawberries, the link is to birch pollen. In other words, if you are allergic to birch pollen, you may have a cross reaction to some fruits, like strawberries. Though OAS can cause itching and sometimes swelling of the mouth, it doesn’t lead to the more severe symptoms of allergies. If you or your child is experiencing difficulty breathing, hives, or itching elsewhere besides the mouth area, the allergy is probably a true food allergy. If this is the case, strawberries need to be completely avoided, in any form. Just as with the major allergenic foods, there is the chance of an anaphylactic reaction. OAS is different from the more severe food induced anaphylaxis of a true food allergy.
So what does this mean? If you have OAS and realize that strawberries make your mouth or lips itch, try cooking your strawberries. Of course, it’s not the same, but you can just be accustomed to them in different ways. Jams and jellies are cooked, and you can make yummy sauces with cooked berries. Some people say the sooner they are eaten after being picked, the smaller your chance of experiencing OAS is. Try a U-Pick field and see if it helps.
If you have an allergy, though, to strawberries, you need to stay away altogether and practice real avoidance. No jams or jellies, or any foods with strawberries in them. Cooking won’t destroy the proteins that cause the true allergies. It won’t matter when they are picked, you need to avoid.
As I have said before, allergies are confusing! Between OAS and true food allergies, between the different symptoms each person can get and between the “growing out of allergies” factor, they are just confusing! The best thing to do is practice common sense, if you have an uncomfortable reaction – stay away from it. You can try allergy testing, but that is another whole story in itself!