white sesame seeds in a brown bowl

Sesame: A Major Allergen

Great news for people with sesame allergies – the ‘Big Eight’ major allergens list is being updated. The Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act (FASTER Act) was passed into law in April 2021, adding sesame to the list of major allergens. Previously, the eight major allergens were milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy.  

Becoming a major allergen means that starting in January 2023, sesame will be included under the labeling rules for the other allergens. This is a big deal because over 1.1 million Americans are allergic to sesame. Sesame allergies can range from mild to life threatening.  

Sesame allergen labeling will take the guesswork out of reading ingredient statements. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Magazine, sesame may appear as benne, benne seed, benniseed, gingelly, gingelly oil, gomasio (sesame salt), halvah, sesame flour, sesame oil, sesame paste, sesame salt, sesame seed, sesamol, sesamum indicum, sesemolina, sim sim, tahini, tahina, tehina or til. It also may be hidden as “natural flavor” or “spices” in an ingredient statement. This can make identifying sesame in food very challenging. 

The FASTER Act will require sesame to be specifically listed in one of two ways. The food label will either include a “Contains” statement after the ingredient statement that identifies the food allergen. That would look like: “Contains: milk, soy, sesame.” The other option would be for the common name to be listed in the ingredients, followed by the food source of a major allergen in parentheses. That would look like: “Gingelly (Sesame).”  

Written by Rachel Caty, MPH, RDN, LDN