Updated 18 May 2017

Lupin allergy

Lupin foods are becoming increasingly more common and popular. Experts, however, warn that there is a link between lupin and peanut allergies - important news for allergy sufferers.

The potential of lupins and foods made from lupins to save the human race from starvation in the future and to counteract obesity and degenerative diseases is generating a lot of conversation. Lupins have a particularly positive and healthy nutritive composition.

Now that researchers have discovered how beneficial lupins can be as a source of food and that these plants can be grown in arid areas and thus be less sensitive to global warming, it is imaginable that we will soon be able to buy a wide variety of foods that contain lupins.

New food products

The Coorow Seeds website (2014) lists the following potential uses for sweet lupin (Lupinus Angustifolius) and lupin derivatives such as flour and bran:

 -  as the base for high-protein and/or energy drinks
 - fermented foods similar to tofu which is made from soybeans
 - inclusion in baked products such as breads, cakes and biscuits, pancakes, pies
 - as meat substitutes for vegetarian and vegan applications and also as a meat ‘extender’
 - whipped products, fillings and glazes
 - ice cream, mayonnaise and dressings for salads and other foods
 - noodles, pasta, chapattis and dal
 - functional foods designed to deliver isoflavones and carotenoids and other health-giving properties

Prof Vijay Jayasena, of Sri Lanka, who recently spoke on ‘Development of novel healthy foods to address some of the major world health issues”, at a Seminar organised by the SAAFoST Northern Branch at the University of Pretoria, illustrated his very practical lecture with slides of foods that have been developed at the School of Public Health of the Curtin University in Perth, Australia.

Prof Jayasena (2014) explained that his team has already developed foods such as lupin snacks, muffins, biscuits, breakfast cereal and a fermented lupin-based tempe product for the Far-Eastern market. Because lupin products are low in fat, high in dietary fibre (28%), high in good quality protein and have a low GI (glycaemic index) and a high satiety score, they are ideal for not only making more foods available in countries that are feeling the negative effects of global warming on their staple food production (e.g. wheat, rice, maize), but also to combat obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels.

With so many positive attributes, it is highly probably that we are going to see lupin listed on our food labels a lot more often in the future.

Potential allergy

As is the case with practically every other food or beverage available to humans, lupins also have the potential to cause sensitivities, intolerances and allergies. With the predicted upsurge in the number of products that will contain lupin flour, bran or kernels, it may also be prudent to keep in mind that lupin allergy will probably also increase.
According to the Anaphylaxis Campaign website (2014), lupin allergy is already more common in Europe today than a few years ago. They ascribe this increase in the incidence of lupin allergy to the fact that lupin flour is used “fairly commonly” in foods products on the Continent, whereas it is still relatively rare in the United Kingdom.

Because there is a link between peanut allergy (one of the most serious, potentially dangerous and even fatal food allergies that currently can affect patients) and lupin allergy, the latter allergy deserves our attention. It is important to understand that lupin and peanuts belong to the same botanical group known as legumes.

Read: Common questions about peanut allergy

If you are allergic to lupin products you may experience the following symptoms:

Mild symptoms

 - Hives or urticaria or nettle rash on any part of the body
 - Itchy feeling in the mouth

Uncommon, but much more serious symptoms can also occur:

 - Swelling of the face, eyes, lips, throat and mouth which can cause problems with breathing and swallowing
 - Severe asthma and respiratory problems
 - Abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting

Extreme or anaphylactic symptoms may include:

 - Very rapid decrease in blood pressure
 - Collapse and loss of consciousness

If you should experience such symptoms then it is vital that you contact your medical doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible (at the first sign of an allergic reaction, the first tingling in the mouth or wheezing of the breath), or ask someone to drive you to the emergency section of your nearest hospital.

Tell the healthcare personnel what you have eaten (peanuts or lupin) and what you are allergic to. Emergency treatment such as an injection of adrenaline and hospitalisation under observation will be given to patients with symptoms of anaphylactic shock.

Read: Anaphylactic shock can be life-threatening

Taking precautions

Patients who suffer from peanut allergy usually wear a Medic-Alert bracelet, so if you have discovered that you are allergic to lupin then ask your medical doctor to arrange for you to also be issued with a bracelet indicating lupin allergy.

The doctor will prescribe adrenaline injections for you to carry with you at all times so that you can inject yourself if you should come into contact with lupin and/or peanuts. The doctor or his nurse will explain how and when you need to inject yourself with adrenaline.

The link between lupin and peanut allergy

Some scientific studies have shown that there is a link between lupin and peanut allergies. According to a study conducted by French researchers, the major allergen (a specific protein) that was found in lupin flour, is also present in peanuts (Moneret-Vautrin et al, 1999).

At present, there is still some uncertainty as to what percentage of patients with peanut allergy will react positively to lupins (Anaphylaxis Campaign, 2014), but it is best to be cautious and to avoid food products that contain both peanuts and lupins if you have tested positive for either allergy.

Remember that these can be serious allergies and that you must have yourself or your child tested by a reputable medical laboratory to confirm these conditions. Self-diagnosis without a programme of medical support, could be fatal for anyone who suffers from peanut and/or lupin allergy.

It is also important to keep in mind that lupin-derived products will be used more frequently in future and that you need to be on the lookout for mention thereof on food and health food labels. According to the Anaphylaxis Campaign website (2014), “Health food stores have been known to sell a larger proportion of products containing lupin than conventional stores. Lupin flour may be found in some products marketed as gluten-free.”

In view of the sudden move towards avoiding foods containing wheat and gluten (often due to unsubstantiated fears of gluten-sensitivity), the public need to be vigilant that they do not expose themselves to lupin allergens if they should be sensitive to lupin and/or peanuts when buying ‘gluten-free’ health products.


Lupin foods are obviously here to stay and will become more and more common and popular. For those individuals who are allergic to either lupin or peanuts, this may make life more complicated. Vigilance and careful attention to food labels will help you to avoid problems if you should have a lupin allergy. For the remainder of the global population who are not allergic, lupin foods will probably prove to be a great boon. 

Read more:

Could lupins be the next superfood?
Is it a cold or an allergy?
Allergies: it's war!

(References: Anaphylaxis Campaign (2014) Lupin Allergy: The facts. ; Coorow Seeds (2014). Lupins for human consumption. ; Jayasena,V (2014). Development of novel healthy foods to address some of the major world health issues. Lecture presented at: SAAFoST Northern Branch Sabbatical Seminar, Dept Food Science, UP. 23 January 2014; Moneret-Vautrin DA et al. (1999). Cross-allergenicity of peanut and lupine: The risk of lupine allergy in patients allergic to peanuts. J Allergy Clin Immunol, Vol 104:883-8.)

(Photo of girl eating bread from Shutterstock)


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Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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