Passover Guide to Hosting Guests with Allergies
By: Elisheva Blumberg, Lubicom Staff
Have you ever heard of the Big 8?
While you might occasionally come across someone who is allergic to unusual foods, like red meat, celery, or mustard, 90% of food allergies in the U.S. come from only 8 sources:
4. Crustacean shellfish
5. Tree nuts
The good news is that by keeping kosher, we can knock shellfish off the list of potential allergens.
Even better news, for those who suffer from food allergies, are the stringencies of Passover — throughout Passover for most Ashkenazis, peanuts are nixed, as are soybeans. And wheat, except for the requirement of matzah, is often absent in baked goods and other products that are made with wheat flour during the year.
But while Passover can feel like a food free-for-all for many people with specific allergies to gluten or legumes (kitniyos), there are actually allergy sufferers who have even more to worry about on Passover — in particular, those with egg and tree nut allergies.
Ground nuts and nut flours, as well as eggs, can feel like irreplaceable Passover staples for classic holiday recipes. Nevertheless, with the right substitutions, special recipes, and a bit of forethought, you play super-host, accommodating guests with allergies while providing delicious Passover food that everyone can enjoy.
First Up: How Severe is the Allergy?
Before hosting someone with a food allergy, be sure to get the lowdown on their specific allergy, plus any food prep requirements they may have.
If your guest is gluten-free, for example, find out how careful you need to be when cooking food; a gluten intolerance is different from celiac disease or gluten allergy — in the latter cases you may need to watch out for cross-contamination in your kitchen.
Life-threatening allergies may require even stricter precautionary measures.
Rabbi Avi Juravel of the OU recommends that anyone with a severe wheat allergy avoid all packaged products from manufacturers that use matzah meal in any of their products — even those made without gluten.
Same goes for those allergic to nuts. There is a risk of cross-contamination with any facility that produces nut products, even if the particular product you’re purchasing is free of nut ingredients.
The Other Dirty Dozen
When you think Passover, do you think eggs? I know I do.
Whether in homemade ice cream, sponge cake, or scrambled straight and served on matzah, chicken eggs rule the roost on Passover.
When accommodating an egg allergy, you’ll have to keep a sharp eye out to avoid this ubiquitous Passover ingredient.
You can purchase many commercially-prepared egg-free Passover products, and of course, you can make your own.
For recipes that use eggs as a binder, you can sub in either ½ a mashed banana or ¼ cup of pureed fruit (such as applesauce). Other substitutions include oil, fruit nectar, and honey.
If you’re not up to experimenting, you can search online for “egg-free Passover recipes”. Here's a recipe for Passover chocolate-chocolate chip cookies with no eggs (or nuts). Also, check out our vegan recipe roundup which includes 27 egg-free, dairy-free, and meat-free Passover recipes.
The symptoms of an egg allergy, as in other allergens, can range from a benign runny nose to true anaphylaxis. The most seriously allergic cannot even tolerate the hard-boiled egg for beitzah on the seder plate. As always, to prevent any potentially dangerous situations, speak to your guest before the holiday.
One Tough Nut
Another Passover ingredient that seems to be in everything? Tree nuts.
Blanched almonds in brownies. Ground walnuts in charoset. pecan-encrusted chicken. Tree nuts are as common on Passover as matzah balls and brisket. Normally, these nuts add a healthy and delicious spin to Passover recipes, however, for those with tree nut allergies, Passover can be a thoroughly anxiety-provoking time.
Nowadays, though, many manufacturers are aware of how common — and dangerous — nut allergies are, and offer lots of nut-free options. Additionally, the home cook can easily make substitutions for tree nuts in Passover recipes.
Common sub-ins for nuts include ground coconut, tapioca flour, and potato starch.
For charoset, instead of the usual chopped walnuts or almonds, try using dates, raisins, or desiccated coconut to add texture and flavor.
A word of caution: when checking ingredients in baked foods, be aware that “kernel paste,” which is commonly used as a base in Passover baked goods, is actually made from ground nuts.
As a helpful shortcut, we’ve compiled a list of our top nut-free Passover recipes, including ideas for nut-free appetizers, mains, sides, salads, and desserts.
Against the Grain
For the gluten-allergic and intolerant, Passover can feel like a party in paradise. Shopping the non-gebrokts aisle, you’ll find that the usual glutinous suspects like bread, pasta, pancake mix, muffins, and pizza have all been reformulated for Passover using no grain flours whatsoever. Many gluten-free eaters even stockpile Passover products for the entire year!
If you’re hosting someone with a wheat allergy, the rule is simple: be sure to avoid anything made with matzah meal or cake meal. Anything labelled non-gebrokts will be good to go (unless you need to worry about traces of wheat.)
The only potential troublemaker in the gluten-free game is matzah. Those who cannot tolerate gluten can find gluten-free specialty oat matzah. But be sure to check the label: many matzahs that are labeled gluten-free are made from potato starch — this means the bracha on those products is shehakol, and while they’re safe for the gluten-allergic, they aren’t suitable for the Passover seder or for making hamotzi at the yom tov meals.