By Charl Rae Cobb
Opening the calendar to May, and planning both our activities and menus, I see the weekends are punctuated by holidays. The month’s galas begin with May Day (May 1st), Cinco de Mayo (May 5th, of course), Mother’s Day (May 10th), and essentially end with Memorial Day (May 25th). I’m sure there are a few birthdays and anniversaries to be celebrated as well as some backyard barbeques.
As usual, my mother’s mind turns toward the food for the celebrations. And, as usual, that has me thinking creatively about substitutes for potential allergies and intolerances of friends and family. Today, I am thinking of corn…
Can you picture corn on the cobb piled next to the BBQ ribs? Can you hear the crunch of corn chips? Can you smell the aroma of breakfast grits? (That last question is probably only for the Southern raised. Personally, I need to become a card carrying member of G.R.I.T.S….. Girls Raised In The South.)
Unfortunately, for those who react to corn mildly (headaches, joint aches, itching, rash, hives, stomach aches, bloating… all of which could be mistaken as symptoms of another cause) or severely (wheezing due to airway constriction, swollen tongue or throat, rapid pulse and sudden drop in blood pressure as the body goes into shock), corn is not easily avoided. They do not merely avoid Tex-Mex restaurants and foods that have corn in their names (examples are: tamales, tacos, corn dogs, cornbread, hominy, polenta). Those reacting to corn (and the friends and family who love them) have to watch for products containing cornstarch, starch, modified food starch, corn oil, corn sugar, artificial and natural flavors, vegetable oil, artificial sweeteners, and many other ingredients that may be processed from corn or have some corn derivative in them.
The “Top 8” allergens the law in the U.S.A. requires to be listed on packaged food products. (See http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm079311.htm) include nuts, peanuts, shellfish, milk, fish, eggs, wheat, and soybean. Corn is considered a “less common allergy and is not required to be identified as an allergen on lists of ingredients. With one in every 13 children in America being diagnosed with food allergies (http://www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats), this is a real concern. And, let’s remember that children grow up to become adults who may or may not “outgrow” those food allergies. If fact, there are more and more stories of those who were misdiagnosed in their childhood, but find their symptoms are now controlled or resolved after being diagnosed with identifiable food allergies as adults.
There are many great websites, which provide lists of corn products and information important to those who react to corn including www.ncga.com (The National Corn Growers Association), www.cornallergens.com (one person’s journey through life with a corn allergy, lists of corn containing products, and recommendations for cooking), and www.glutenfreesociety.org which has an interesting article titled, “Hidden Corn Based Ingredients”.
This impacts the dishes I will serve for various holidays and the substitutions I may be making for corn in certain recipes (like arrowroot starch or potato starch or rice flour for cornstarch and olive oil or grape seed oil for corn oil). I also remember the FDA does not require non-food items to be labeled with potential allergens. Before I offer someone an over the counter remedy for a headache or place a bandaid on a skinned knee, I need to remember to ask if that person has a corn allergy. In researching this article, I learned that paper containers for ice cream, paper cups, plastic wrappers, many medications, laundry starch, and adhesives for stamps/envelopes/stickers might have corn as a coating or may be in the product. Wow! This raises my awareness of what is in my environment (besides the ethanol in the gas tank) and how much of a “footprint” corn has in our society.
Wishing you good health!