Category Archives: Food

Oral Allergy Syndrome – When Fruit Turns Nasty

Oral Allergy Syndrome - Fruit Onslaught
© Tessa Cheung

Some who know me have remarked that I seem to like collecting rare health conditions. Sometimes I find it hard to argue, what with being unable to burp and also suffering from a myriad of allergies. Allergies are very commonplace in developed countries nowadays, but after becoming allergic to more and more fruits (and some raw vegetables) that I used to eat frequently, I decided to dig for information and found out that I have oral allergy syndrome. The condition is surprisingly not that well known, even though there is a fair amount of information about it now; a doctor I asked said that she’d never heard of it.

What the Heck is Oral Allergy Syndrome?

Oral allergy syndrome (OAS) is a result of cross-reactivity in hayfever sufferers. Allergies are caused by the body’s immune system producing an unnecessary response to normally non-harmful substances – in the case of hayfever, pollen. The immune response leads to itching and swelling in the areas exposed to the pollen, and hayfever sufferers will be all too familiar with the results: streaming eyes, endless sneezing and general misery. The protein structures of certain pollens are similar to the proteins found in various fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices, and if the immune system also recognises these as “hostile” then allergic reactions can also occur when these are eaten. These reactions tend to be limited to areas that have been directly exposed, and most often the mucus membranes of the mouth are affected – hence the term, “oral allergy syndrome”, although it is also known as pollen-food syndrome (PFS). Symptoms include itching, tingling and sometimes swelling in the lips, mouth and throat. Nausea may also occur after eating the offending item, which goes away after the stomach juices have had enough time to break down the proteins.

The types of foods which may cause a reaction depend on which pollen allergy or allergies you have. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) website has an brilliant table documenting what you can expect to react to if you’re allergic to birch, grass, ragweed or mugwort pollen. You can find out which one you’re allergic to through allergy testing at a clinic (in the UK this usually involves seeing your GP first for a referral to a hospital clinic). If you’re allergic to something in a particular family, you can often predict that you should avoid others in that family. For example: apples, pears, quinces, apricots, plums, cherries, peaches, raspberries, loquats, strawberries and almonds are all in the Rosaceae (or rose) family, any of which you might react to if you suffer from a birch pollen allergy.

Living with Oral Allergy Syndrome

OAS is caused by eating raw fruits and vegetables. This is because the food proteins are in their immune response-activating state when uncooked. Proteins are altered in shape, or denatured, by heat, pH changes, radiation, exposure to oxygen and mechanical agitation. After this occurs, the immune system does not recognise the proteins.

Protein denaturation

Ways you could continue to eat fruits and vegetables, as recommended by Allergy UK, include:

  • Cooking them – the heat distorts the proteins.
  • Peeling them – the proteins are often concentrated in the skin.
  • Microwaving them – this does not need to be done for so long that the fruit/veg is fully cooked, just long enough that most of it has been exposed to microwaves. In my experience 15 seconds is long enough for a small chopped and peeled apple. I actually got a nifty device that peels, cores and cuts apples into a spiral, making them much faster to prepare. I do miss the days when all I had to do was wash them.
  • Trying a different variety – you may find that you are allergic to some varieties of apples but not others, for example. You shouldn’t try this if you suffer from severe reactions to a particular fruit/vegetable/nut/spice, however – it would be better to avoid completely.

Other preparation methods that have worked for me include:

  • Cutting them up or juicing, and then leaving them in the fridge for about 6-8 hours or longer – this exposes the insides of the produce to oxygen, which begins the degradation of the fruit. It also activates enzymes that are present, some of which cause deterioration. Juicing fruit may cause denaturation mechanically as well.
  • Freezing them – this has worked for me with blueberries. I’m guessing that the water in the cells of the fruit forms ice crystals, which disrupts the protein structures.

Frozen blueberries

  • Drying them – the dried versions of some offending fruits such as apples, blueberries and figs haven’t caused any reaction for me thus far. This may be because some of them are dried using heat.

Dried appleUnfortunately cooking, juicing and cutting fresh fruits and vegetables does reduce the nutritional content as some vitamins are oxygen and heat sensitive. Resorting to the above methods is better than not eating them at all though, as they still retain some nutrients. You can’t use OAS as an excuse to cut them all out of your diet I’m afraid! During the height of hayfever season you might want to avoid the problem foods altogether though, as the reaction can be worse at this time.

If you have a reaction to nuts, a widespread reaction such as a rash or breathing problems or react even to cooked products then make sure to consult a doctor.

Hopefully this has taken some of the mysticism out of oral allergy syndrome. Now face those fruits!

Doubles Troubles

Trini Doubles_Prop Door Illustrations

I went to Trinidad and Tobago for the first time over Christmas. It was my first trip to the Caribbean actually, since Bermuda doesn’t count (and I’ve been told numerous times by Trinis that no, it definitely doesn’t). Whenever I go abroad I always make a special point to eat the local delicacies – I absolutely live to eat and want to take this philosophy across the world with me, no matter how much my waistbands object. There isn’t a shortage of luscious local specialities for T ‘n T, and I was regularly questioned by locals as to which of them I had or hadn’t partaken yet. They were repeatedly shocked to discover that pretty much the only one I hadn’t was THE street food of Trinidad: doubles.

For anyone unfamiliar with this fast food, it comprises chick peas sandwiched (or sometimes just topping) two pieces of fried flat bread, or bara. It is topped with the essential pepper sauce and often other extras such as shadon beni, mango or cucumber. As to when in day it is eaten, I would refer you to the hilarious and brilliantly -worded explanation from Wikipedia:

It is usually eaten for breakfast, and sometimes lunch, and mostly at night but can be a late night snack as well.

Glad that’s cleared up then.

A series of plan and flight time changes meant that I could not sample the amazing 24 hour treat that is doubles. It was such a tragedy that I have designed a T-shirt for those unfortunate enough to have also missed out, so that we may all lament together.

Doubles t-shirt


At least for now I can console myself with the tasty offerings from Roti Joupa in Clapham. But next time…!!

Doubles Roti JoupaDoubles from Roti Joupa. The photo doesn’t show them in the most flattering light, but trust me, they are bloomin’ delicious.  As the takeaway isn’t very close by, we bought loads and stuck what we didn’t scoff immediately into the freezer. They reheat very nicely, especially in the oven where they develop a nice crunch around the edge of the bara.

Here’s to doubles – a perfect street food (and vegan too!).



CAU, St Katherine Docks

Carne Argentina Unica, or CAU as it’s more commonly known, is a chain of Argentinian restaurants with 14 branches all over the UK. St Katherine Dock was a very welcome recent addition to their line up, not least because it took up residence next to the highly anticipated but disappointingly middling Tom’s Kitchen.

I’d been to this branch of CAU a couple of times previous, first to sample a luscious rib eye steak (and I am exceedingly picky about steak) and then an amazing juicy and chargrilled burger. After repeated statements that I would try their £15 Sunday roast “next time”, I finally did.

CAU, St Katherine Dock
Sunday roast at CAU

For £15 you do get the works – sliced roast rump, massive Yorkshire pud, roast taters cooked in beef dripping (the best kind!), the biggest single carrot I’ve ever been served and…onion rings. They were tasty though so will forgive them on that one aberration. It all looked brilliant, yet in the end was kind of…meh. First off the beef, although pleasingly pink, was chewy. Really, really chewy. As in jaw-muscles-aching-the-next-day chewy. I’ve never experienced that before, hence my panic at what might be going on with my face until the pieces fell into place. Since the meat wasn’t overcooked, I could only surmise the chewiness was due to the cut being marbled throughout with fine yet tough connective tissue which probably would have benefitted from MORE cooking – a low and slow roast is necessary to break down those tough bits. It also reminded me why I don’t usually order rump.

The rest of the roast was decent, but still average. The Yorkshire pudding was getting soft by the time it arrived, certainly not up to the airy and crisp standard as the “big as your head” puds I’ve had at Brown’s. Potatoes were nice as long as you didn’t get an over-roasted rock hard piece. The gravy was flavoursome, but the biggest flaw of the meal became evident when attempting to poor it – the roast is served on a wooden board. Of all the poncy, cheffy trends propagating at the moment the one I hate most is food being served on a board. Or a slate. As well as holding back on the gravy pouring so I wouldn’t end up with a pool in my lap, I had to carefully maneuver all my food around so it would stay on the board. The size was chosen specifically to fit all the stacked food precisely so it would look pretty as it was served, but it meant there was no extra room to cut up the food (especially the chewy meat, which needed a lot of cutting). Just give me a plate, man!!

Then onto dessert. We decided to share the three milk cake, as tackling the mix of condensed milk, cream, Italian meringue and rich cake would’ve been too challenging for one alone.

Carbs galore - Three Milk Cake
Carbs galore – Three Milk Cake

We’ve ordered the cake before and it was still sticky, creamy and naughty, but seemed to have decreased in size since last time. The Italian meringue also more resembled regular, unsweetened meringue and lacked the gooey marshmallow-ness of the former incarnation. Problems with consistency are evident.

Despite my reservations about what we ordered that day, I would still definitely go back. The reason? The fantastic burgers. And steak. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

One more thing – their “Ice cream sandwich” dessert only has biscuit on one side. That is NOT a sandwich, CAU. And don’t try to give me some “open-faced sandwich” crap.

Cake To Your Face, Today

On Tuesday I realised that I’d forgotten to arrange a cake for my Mum, whose birthday was coming up on the Friday. Going to the nearest shop which sells decent cake would be SO strenuous – a whole 20 minute journey is just too far. Due to my laziness over previous years, I have in the past googled places that deliver it (preferably free of charge). But it can’t be just any cake: it must be ultra light sponge (almost like air) and covered in whipped, unsweetened cream and topped with fresh fruit. Basically “Chinese Western cake”. Unsurprisingly I had no luck.

UNTIL! Amazingly on this Tuesday, I stumbled upon the cake site of my dreams: Cakes Today. They make cakes to order, which can be delivered free of charge to most London postcodes if your order is over £15. They can even be delivered the same day until 10pm, in case you have a cake emergency or mad craving. They are made with fresh cream and fruit as well as the more usual fondant icing type (most other cake places only do fondant or buttercream for delivery). With a choice of free piped message and a plethora of changes you can make for £4.99 each, including gluten free and low sugar, there’s no way you wouldn’t get the baked treat you want.

Cakes Today - Fruity Celebration Cake
The Fruity Celebration cake I got my Mum. It didn’t say Happy Anniversary, obviously.

The cake was delivered within the 5 hour time slot in nice condition. It was light and fluffy and not too sweet – just right for my picky Mum. Huzzah!!

From all the above you might think I’m affiliated with Cakes Today. I’m really not. I just like cake, to my face, the way I like it. Ok, the way others like it. With no extra delivery charge. I will return for more! Luckily my Dad’s birthday is just over a week away. It’s cake time again…

Duck and Waffle

I was taken out for a much belated, but really appreciated, birthday brunch today. It was at Duck and Waffle in Heron Tower, where the brunch seems to outstrip the popularity of any other mealtimes judging by the number of people queuing to get into the glass lifts and be shot up to the 40th floor every weekend. Maybe because it’s the only time it’s acceptable to have a plate of dessert as a main meal. I’m also a fan of linner, although it doesn’t seem to have taken off in the same way.

The view from the restaurant is brilliant, even if you’re not facing any famous landmarks or it’s pissing down (as if was for us). I’ve been before but hadn’t tried the signature duck and waffle dish, so went for that this time. A fried duck egg and confit duck leg on a waffle, with a mustard maple syrup to pour, doesn’t sound like something you’d expect to go down that well. We’re not as used to the sweet and savoury mash up as they are in the US, where pancakes with bacon and waffles topped with fried chicken are really popular. The crispy, salty duck leg and rich egg yolk went perfectly with the slightly sweet waffle though, and the syrup was the perfect sauce. Think honeyed chicken wings for example. The dish also brings to mind the current trend for brioche burger rolls, where sweet bread is a great match for umami-rich meat. Not to mention that eating sugar and fat activate the mesolimbic, or reward, pathway in the brain, making this type of food as addictive as any drug.

The signature duck and waffle.

Not satisfied with this I finished off with the dark chocolate brownie sundae. Why?? I always order dessert and regret it afterwards, but it still doesn’t stop me. It was rich and delicious, but of course I was defeated and had to leave a piece of mouth-gumming brownie behind. The oh so creamy ice cream was probably the highlight though.

Big thanks to my friend for an amazing brunch. It’ll be paid back for your birthday! Next time I’ll try the ox cheek doughnut…

Lobster London

Grilled lobster at Lobster London

Last night me and a fellow lobster lover visited Lobster London, the pop-up restaurant on the 29th floor of the Millbank Tower. It was my first time in the tower, and the first thing to strike me was the view which is fantastic.

The food was decent – both the chicken and mushroom sliders had a good, smoky taste, although the chicken was a little on the dry side. Skin-on fries were nicely crispy and fluffy; it was just a shame there were so few of them (as a reference, the contents of the above photo were for both of us). Salad was overly oniony and rockety, and just quite bitter really. As for the main attraction, the lobster tail was a touch overdone but otherwise hit the spot with the balance of sweetness and chargrilled flavour.

Service was efficient and friendly, which made me feel sorry for our waitress when she was continually let down by the bar and kitchen. Throughout the evening we placed orders for a virgin mojito, milkshake and “chocolate extravaganza” dessert, none of which were subsequently available. This lack of preparation (and prior communication) was quite disappointing, frankly.

Overall it was a nice enough dinner in a great setting, but I’ve had a better lobster dining experience elsewhere.


Konditor and Cook's gingerbread person.

At the weekend I ended up near Spitalfields Market, which meant that I had to pop into Konditor and Cook. The draw for me isn’t their legendary brownies, which really are sinfully delicious, but their gingerbread men. Or gingerbread people, as they put it in a very PC way. They won’t win any prizes for the decoration frankly, but they have the best tasting gingerbread in London in my opinion. It’s much softer than the usual supermarket teeth-breaker consistency and has a buttery, less intensely gingery flavour. This might disappoint the real ginger lovers, but it’s an unbelievably tasty, moreish biscuit that smacks of home baking – especially nice for those who can’t be bothered to make their own or who are just crap at biscuits (I fall into the latter. Ok, and the former). I might be tempted to try though after finding this recipe that the bakery placed in the Telegraph a while back. Will mine be like the ones in the shop? Past experience says it’s doubtful. Really, really, doubtful.

The crown for the best gingerbread I’ve discovered in this country has to go to the magnificent crumbly ginger slabs from Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread Shop in Cumbria. It’s so good that they even sell bags of the leftover crumbs for people to make crumble toppings with. Or just pour into their mouths with a funnel, possibly. Sadly since they’re so far away (and the delivery charges for small online orders too steep) for regular indulgence, I’ll have to fill the gingerbread void with Konditor and Cook’s. Yeah yeah yeah, first world problems.

Sarah Nelson's Grasmere gingerbread
The awesome Grasmere gingerbread