Mustard: common ingredient, uncommon allergy

General public awareness of some of the more common UK food allergies has steadily increased over the past 20 years.

Many people will know someone that has a nut, dairy or gluten allergy or intolerance.  All the major supermarkets now have growing ‘free from’ ranges, making it easier for customers to make safe food choices.

Mustard allergy, although one of the 14 allergens that must be highlighted on food labels and menus, is thought to be one of the rarer food allergies in the UK, although there are no official statistics.

In allergy terms, ‘mustard’ does not just mean the condiment: mustard can be present in more dishes than you would think.

There appears to be a correlation between the popularity of mustard in a national diet and the prevalence of mustard allergy.  France is the world’s largest producer and consumer of mustard and mustard allergies are more common there.  

How mustard is used as an ingredient

When you think of mustard, the first thing likely to come to mind is the condiment, but mustard can be used as an ingredient in several forms:

  • the condiment (French, English, Dijon etc)

  • mustard powder

  • mustard seeds

  • mustard leaves

Foods and dishes that may contain mustard

Requesting ‘no mustard’ in your burger and not adding it to your meal in a restaurant is easy enough.  But mustard-based ingredients in dishes can be harder to spot: 

  • seeds in salamis, hams and other processed meats

  • seeds in the juice of pickled products like gherkins and onions

  • sauces including ketchup, barbeque sauce, mayonnaise and curry sauce

  • seasoning, for example on crisps

  • salads – both as leaves and in dressings

  • stock cubes

  • spice/seasoning mixes

  • pre-packed sandwiches

Mustard allergy symptoms

The symptoms of mustard allergy vary in severity and can include:

  • a tingling sensation in your mouth

  • a rash or urticaria (hives)

  • swelling of the face or mouth

  • nausea and/or abdominal pain

  • difficulty breathing, wheezing or an asthma attack

  • in the most serious of cases, anaphylaxis

What you can do if you suspect that you have a mustard allergy

If you think you have an allergy to mustard, talk to your GP about allergy testing and they can refer you to a specialist allergy clinic.

Research by Manchester University highlighted that sulphites are often used in mustard seasoning, so it’s worth checking that you’re not allergic to sulphites when investigating a potential mustard allergy.

Look out for mustard as a highlighted allergen on ingredients labels when shopping.

When you’re eating out, make the management aware of your allergy and ask about the ingredients of the food on their menu.  Many pubs, cafes and restaurants now highlight food allergen information on their menus.  If the front-of-house staff are unsure about whether mustard might be present, ask them to speak to the chef.

Food allergen labelling for businesses

Make dining safer for your customers with Allergen Checker.  With Allergen Checker you can print your own company-branded labels and menus with clear, compliant food allergen information.  It’s budget-friendly, easy to use and you can even try before you buy with a free trial.