If you have nut allergies, you might be wondering if chestnuts are safe for you to eat. Chestnuts have “nut” right there in the name, and they grow on trees. So presumably that makes them a tree nut? Like many food allergies, the relationship between chestnuts and tree nut allergy isn’t quite that simple. And it might depend on where you live.
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Are chestnuts a tree nut?
Chestnuts are the fruit of chestnut trees. These trees are part of the Fagacae botanical family, which includes oak trees and beech trees. There are several different species of chestnuts, including European, American, Chinese and Japanese. Many people are familiar with the sweet chestnut species known as Castanea sativa.
Theses deciduous trees produce large spikey seeds, which break open to reveal the edible chestnut inside. The chestnut has a dark brown outer skin or shell. While chestnuts are a “tree nut”, they are in a different botanical category to the tree nuts that are the common cause of allergies like cashews, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and others. Chestnuts don’t contain the same allergy causing proteins as other tree nuts known to cause serious food allergies.
What do the allergy professionals and food allergy organisations say?
ASCIA, the peak allergy and immunology body in Australia, doesn’t include chestnuts in its information on tree nut allergy and the foods to avoid1. Likewise, Anaphylaxis UK doesn’t include chestnuts in its tree nut allergy advice and notes that chestnut allergies are uncommon2. Chestnuts are also not a priority food allergy in Canada3.
In the US, FARE advises people with tree nut allergies to avoid chestnuts. And the US has different allergy labelling laws for tree nuts compared to other countries4.
Food allergy labelling for chestnut
In Australia and New Zealand, chestnuts are not a tree nut of public health significance for allergies and food allergy labelling purposes. The food allergy labelling laws require labels to list cashews, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia and pine nuts in allergy labels. Of course, foods containing chestnut should still list this in the ingredients, but it won’t be in bold or included in the allergy statement.
The Food Standards Agency in the UK and Health Canada also don’t consider chestnuts a priority allergen for food labelling purposes.
However, in the United States the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does class chestnuts as a tree nut and it must be included in food allergy labelling5.
Symptoms of chestnut allergy
Just because chestnuts aren’t a top allergen in many countries, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be allergic to them.
Symptoms of allergic reactions to chestnuts can range from mild to severe or life threatening (anaphylaxis):
MILD OR MODERATE
- swelling of lips, face or eyes
- hives or welts
- tingling mouth
- vomiting or abdominal pain (*this can be a sign of a severe reaction to insect stings)
- difficult or noisy breathing
- swollen tongue
- swelling/tightness in throat
- wheezing or persistent coughing
- difficulty talking or hoarse voice
- persistent dizziness or collapse
- pale and floppy (young children)
How common are chestnut allergies?
Chestnut allergies are more common in some parts of the world than others. In Australia, where chestnuts aren’t a common ingredient, chestnut allergies are uncommon. Chestnuts aren’t a common cause of allergies in the US, UK or Canada either. Most reactions to chestnuts in these countries are due to oral allergy syndrome/pollen allergy syndrome or latex allergy (discussed below).
However, in parts or the world where chestnuts are more commonly eaten like Southern Europe, Turkey and Asia, chestnut allergies are more prevalent. In fact, in Korea chestnut allergy is one of the most common allergies and the most common “tree nut” allergies.
Foods to avoid with a chestnut allergy
If you are allergic to chestnuts, or your allergist has advised you to avoid eating them, you’ll need to take extra care. Check the ingredient labels on any any packaged foods carefully for chestnut as an ingredient. Be aware that in many countries it won’t be included in the allergen statement.
Chestnuts are commonly associated with cooler autumn (fall) and winter weather. Roasted chestnuts on a fire. Street stalls selling roasted chestnuts in paper cones. Chestnuts bring to mind classic festive recipes like chestnuts and Brussels sprouts. However chestnuts are not just eaten whole or chopped in recipes. They are also ground into chestnut flour to be used in baking. Chestnut flour is popular for gluten free baking.
Dishes that might include chestnuts as an ingredient include:
- cakes and desserts
- gluten free baked goods
- pancakes and crepes
- pasta and gnocchi
- soups and stews
- vegetable dishes
Other allergies associated with chestnut allergy
Most people with chestnut allergies are able to eat peanuts and other tree nuts. (Peanuts are a legume and there is no link between peanut allergy and allergy to chestnuts.)
People with a latex allergy may also be allergic to chestnuts. This is known as latex-fruit syndrome. The proteins in some foods like bananas, avocado, kiwifruit, hazelnuts and some fruits are similar to those found in latex. Chestnuts also have a similar protein.
Chestnuts can also cause symptoms in some people with oral allergy syndrome (pollen food allergy syndrome). This type of allergy occurs where people with pollen allergies (allergic rhinitis or hayfever) react to similar proteins in fruits. OAS usually cases local reactions like an itchy mouth or swollen lips rather than anaphylaxis.
What about water chestnuts and tree nut allergy?
Water chestnuts are a common ingredient in Asian cooking. This ingredient is actually the tuber of an aquatic plant and is not related to the sweet chestnut that grows on trees. There is no reason to avoid water chestnuts if you have a tree nut or a chestnut allergy.
References and more information
As always, if you have a tree nut allergy you should discuss with your treating allergy specialist whether you are likely to be allergic to chestnuts and follow their advice.
For more general information about chestnuts and tree nut allergy, we recommend the following resources we’ve referred to in writing this post:
- 1Australian Society of Clinical Immunology & Allergy, Dietary Avoidance Tree Nuts
- Australian Society of Clinical Immunology & Allergy, Dietary Avoidance FAQs
- Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, Food allergen – Tree Nuts
- 2Anaphylaxis UK, Seeds and foods with “nuts” in the name
- 3Food Allergy Canada, Tree Nuts
- 4FARE, Tree Nut Allergy
- 5Food and Drug Administration, FDA Basics for Industry, Section 201(qq) … tree nuts
More about nut allergies
If you are allergic to tree nuts, you might also be interested in reading about whether you need to avoid coconut or shea. Or whether tiger nuts are safe for people with nut allergies. Also make sure to read about other related foods that can cause reactions for people with cashew allergy.
You can also find lots of nut free recipes to try on our recipes page. And don’t forget to subscribe for more practical tips for living with allergies.
*Disclaimer: Allergy Spot does not provide medical advice. You should always consult a suitably qualified medical practitioner in respect of your own medical conditions, symptoms or concerns. See our Website Terms for more details.