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Allergic to tikka masala?

Has anyone experienced something like this? Every time I eat tikka masala, I break out in hives. It's not serious, but I'm curious as to what makes me break out. I have no known food allergies and my limited research turned up mentions of the dyes used in the sauces. However, most of the stuff I read was British, so I'm not sure if those dyes are allowed in the United States. I've also read that the dish contains nuts, but I'm not allergic to nuts.

I don't eat this dish often and I've only had it at one restaurant in San Diego. It could be the dish or it could be the restaurant. When I go to this place, I always order the same thing, so it was easy to discern a pattern. The hives aren't severe and there's no shortness of breath, so I continue to enjoy the dish.

Anyway, 'Hounds are knowledgeable folk, so I thought I'd throw it out there and see if anyone might know something about it. Thanks.

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  1. FWIW, my daughter is allergic to red dye #40 and turns red in places on her face, not quite a severe as hives. They could be using that in their masala. Do you get the hives any other time? Red dye 40 shows up in odd places--yogurt, most grocery store baked goods (even ones that aren't red), antibiotics, punches/drinks,...

    1. A close friend of mine has a reaction to Turmeric, which likely shows up in such a dish.

      1. Do you get this when you eat other spicy/Indian foods or just tikka masala? If this is the only food you break out after eating, I would seriously suspect the red dye.

        1 Reply
        1. re: brittle peanut

          I believe it's just the tikka masala. If I eat any other dish, it doesn't seem to affect me.

        2. I have to be careful when eating Indian food. The only thing I'm able to eat without getting a severe migraine and hives is vindaloo, rice, and nan. The smell of the turmeric alone gives a migraine. When I have Indian food I prepare myself before hand with Exedrine Migraine and Bennadryl.

          You can also go to an allergist and get tested.

          6 Replies
          1. re: MrsT

            Vindaloo mix usually has turmeric in it. See the following ingredient list from Penzeys:

            Hand-mixed from: coriander, garlic, cumin, ginger, Korintje cinnamon, crushed brown mustard, cayenne red pepper, jalapeƱo pepper, cardamom, turmeric, Tellicherry black pepper and cloves.

            Often restaurants use the same spice mix in more than one dish...maybe if you could give
            other dishes that you eat and don't eat, we could do process of elimination?

            1. re: HappyChow

              Let's see... tandoori chicken, chicken masala, anything with lentils (daal?), spinach purees (palak paneer?), and naan don't give me any problems.

              Of the ingredients you listed from the vindaloo mix, I've had most of them in other dishes (more South Asian than Indian) with no issues. It's starting to look more and more like the dye.

              1. re: geekyfoodie

                I don't think it's the dye, because then you'd have problems with the tandoori chicken, which is often dyed a bright red (or at least it is in many of California's Indian restaurants).

                1. re: Humbucker

                  I didn't think so at first, but after reading Miss Needle's comment below (see my response to her), I realized that I don't consume tandoori in large quantities. Never had it as an entree. If it's in a buffet, I'll have a drumstick or two. If someone else orders it, I might try a bite. I'll have to try more of it and see.

              2. re: HappyChow

                Hmmm...I wonder why I get that reaction then. Maybe it's something chemical, maybe it's the amount of turmeric. I know tandori anything knocks me out.

                1. re: MrsT

                  I wasn't under the impression that tandoori chicken normally has large quantities of turmeric in it. I wonder why you can eat vindaloo without problems?

                  This thread is so interesting, in a confusing sort of way.

            2. You say you are not allergic to nuts. However, allergies often develop in adulthood. I was never allergic to carrots. One day about 10 years ago I drank carrot juice and broke out in severe hives. The same thing happens whenever I eat raw carrots. Ate them for years. So, you may have developed an allergy.

              1 Reply
              1. re: emilief

                True, but not to nuts. I eat handfuls of them regularly, from peanuts to cashews to pecans. No reaction there, thank goodness. I'm an unabashed fan of nuts... I'd hate to have to give them up.

              2. Thanks for the responses, everyone! I'm sorry it took a while to respond. I'm starting to suspect the red dye more and more, so I'll keep an eye out for red dyes and see how that goes.

                8 Replies
                1. re: geekyfoodie

                  You should try the tandoori chicken and see if you have the same response. Basically, chicken tikka masala is tandoori chicken with a masala-spiced tomato cream sauce. If it's the red dye, you'll probably have the same reaction with the tandoori chicken. If you don't have the reaction, you may have a problem with some of the other spices or dairy.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    That's exactly what I was thinking. There is nothing especially exotic about the masala for the spices in the cream sauce that turns tandoori into CTM. They're all found in most other Indian dishes (as well as non-Indian dishes). If the allergy is only to CTM, I am inclined to believe it's more psychosomatic in origin.

                    1. re: JungMann

                      I'm really not sure how the symptoms are psychosomatic... that would imply that somehow I had a mental hangup either with the dish or while I was eating the dish. I don't have any psychological trauma regarding tikka masala or the restaurant. For instance, it wasn't something I hated as a child or contracted food poisoning from eating.

                      It's definitely possible, of course. From personal experience, I became extremely ill after consuming mass quantities of "jungle juice". It's was at a college party, so the particular mix I had was Kool-Aid fruit punch and whatever was available in the house. To this day, nearly a decade later, the smell of artificial fruit punch flavoring brings an overwhelming wave of nausea. So, I understand what you're saying, but I'm not sure how it's applicable to this particular situation.

                      Of course, it could also stem from issues completely unrelated to the food/restaurant, but I don't eat at this restaurant regularly enough to say that issues in my life (i.e. stress, etc.) would heavily influence my physiological response. I'd think that the hives would show up elsewhere if that were the case.

                      I'll go into more detail in a response to Miss Needle, but I should have mentioned that the establishment where I eat this dish isn't Indian in nature. It's a curry joint that features curry from all over the world. This might play into the ingredients, as I'm sure it's not prepared traditionally.

                      And to clarify to everyone... I'm not calling this an allergy. I break out in hives, which indicates some sort of immune response, but since I don't have a diagnosis or a consistent baseline of responses, it can't be called that.

                      1. re: geekyfoodie

                        Psychosomatic isn't the correct term. I initially thought conversion disorder, but that's way off. Either way, you're on the right track analogizing your experience to your reaction to Jungle Juice. My suspicion was that you had hives concurrent with eating CTM and built an association between the two. Now your body reacts physiologically in response to the associated stimulus in the same way you react to the smell of artificial fruit punch. But if you are reacting similarly to the tandoori, then perhaps we have found our answer.

                        1. re: JungMann

                          Indeed, and it's very true. I do enjoy a good dose of research and self-diagnosis. Of course, since I'm not going into anaphylactic shock at lunch, it's fun to ponder the causes. San Diego's not exactly a hotbed of authentic Indian cuisine, but this will be interesting nevertheless.

                        2. re: geekyfoodie

                          Jungle juice! Boy, that brings back memories, and most are pretty fuzzy! You could always clip your nose shut, make some red koolaid, and see if you break out in hives from that. Then you could rule out the dye. Or have someone else make the koolaid, but you drink it.

                          Breaking out in hives is an allergic response, BTW. So, you need to figure out what is is before you have a worse reaction. The last time I broke out in hives, after eating some candy (weird) my Dr. sent me home with an Epipen.

                      2. re: Miss Needle

                        I really should have mentioned this in my OP, so apologies for the omission. I can't try the tandoori chicken at this establishment because it isn't on the menu. It's not an Indian restaurant, but a "curry joint" where curries from all over the world are featured. Tikka masala, vindaloo, Thai green curry, and Japanese curry are some of the items. The curries are not fabulous nor extremely authentic, but they make a decent lunch. I'm not sure how they prepare it, but I wouldn't be surprised if pre-made sauce bases were involved.

                        The two curries I have consistently are the Thai green curry and the tikka masala. I don't have any issues with hives when I eat the green curry.

                        I have had tandoori chicken at other restaurants, but never more than a drumstick or two. I've never had it as an entree, so I don't normally eat a large serving of it. Next time I come across it, I'll definitely try it.

                        This definitely calls for a little more research. Lots of Indian food... definitely not research I'd complain about!

                        1. re: geekyfoodie

                          Oooh! A curry joint sounds exciting! I would probably attempt to try tandoori chicken and tikka masala (at separate times) at an Indian restaurant to see if you have an adverse reaction. And about the whole allergy thing, you did indeed have a histamine reaction to whatever you ate. However it may be difficult to diagnose by seeing an allergist as false negatives are common. The best way is by trial and error. Good luck with your research -- sounds yummy.

                    2. I just came across this thread while I was doing some research about what happend to me last week. I broke out in hives for the first time in my life about an hour after eating chicken tikka masala. This is a dish I eat pretty often, but I tried a new restaurant, and apparently my body was not pleased with it. I am going to get an allergy test next week, but I am pretty stumped about the whole situation. I also ate at a restaurant in San Diego, but its not the one that it sounds like you went to. I have been to the one that serves curries from around the world in PB but only had the thai green curry. I'm curious if you ever figured anything else out about your reaction to tikka masala?