by Kelley Lindberg
It’s that time of year when families everywhere start looking ahead to vacations. Daffodils are blooming, travel brochures are arriving in the mail, and wanderlust is itching at our toes. I’ve started planning a dream vacation – a European adventure! We’re going to spend a day and a half in Paris, then head to Italy for nearly two weeks.
While I’m looking at airline fares, train schedules, and websites full of scenic photos (I’m going to look just like that fabulously fashionable model sipping wine at that sidewalk café in her size 0 sundress, honest!), I also have been thinking about my son’s food allergies.
Traveling with food allergies always involves a little more planning and preparation than the average traveler might realize. But we’ve been traveling since he was tiny, and we’ve gotten some good routines and tools that help get us through safely. But this will be my son’s first trip to Europe, and I’ve discovered something new that we’ll have to deal with: lupin.
Ever heard of lupin? Most of us in the USA haven’t, fortunately. It’s the bean of a few species of lupine flower (like those hundreds of species of beautiful flowered stalks that grow wild here in the States, including Texas blue bonnets), and it’s ground up to make flour. Although we don’t use it here in the USA (yet), it’s been approved for use in bread flour in Europe since 1997. It’s apparently used a lot in pasta, bread, and pastries, especially in countries near the Mediterranean, like Italy.
What’s the big deal with lupin?
Well, if you’re allergic to peanuts, you’ve got about a 50% chance of being allergic to lupin flour, too. In Europe, they’ve discovered that lupin is the cause of many of the anaphylactic reactions they’re seeing.
So as I’m researching all things Italian, I decided I’d better look into lupin. I’d rather know before our trip if my son is going to react to this stuff, rather than finding out the hard way, at a restaurant in some little village in Italy, far from an English-speaking doctor.
I called my son’s allergist, Dr. Jones, who couldn’t find any prepared lupin serum from any manufacturer in the United States to do allergy testing with. So he suggested a skin-prick test using actual food made with lupin flour. I spent days searching for lupin flour or something made with it. I called European delis and bakeries in Salt Lake City – they’d never heard of it. I tried gluten-free stores. Same response. I went online and Googled the heck out of “lupin flour” and couldn’t find anything. Finally, Jamie Stern from the online grocery store Allergies and Me located some imported Italian pasta made with lupin flour for me.
I cooked the pasta until most of the water was cooked away, blended it up into a fine paste, and took it to the doctor’s office. There, he did what’s called a “prick to prick” test, where they prick the needle directly into the pasta, then prick my son’s skin with it.
The results? Drum roll, please…. Positive.
Sigh. Yep, we’re headed to Italy, the land of pasta and bread, and my son’s allergic to the flour they may use in it.
Well, forewarned is forearmed, as they say, so I’m going to be prepared. I’ve looked up how to say “lupin flour” in both French (farine de lupin) and Italian (farina del lupino). I’ve ordered a new medical ID bracelet for my son that lists peanuts, tree nuts, and lupin. I’ve ordered nifty laminated translation cards from SelectWisely that will help me communicate the severity of his allergy in both languages. And I’ve explained to my son that we will have to be very careful about every baked good he wants to try while we’re there, and he understands and is okay with that.
I’m hoping the use of lupin flour won’t be as widespread as I fear. Perhaps it’s still fairly exotic, and we won’t encounter very much of it. But I have no way of knowing until we’re there.
Despite this new worry, we’re still excited about our trip. I only wish we were leaving NOW – I keep counting the weeks, and it’s still too far away! But when we do finally go, I’ll write about our experiences with lupin flour, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy all these travel brochures that keep piling up. (Even if all the happy vacationing models in the photos are a size 0.)