Here’s an idea: Why not just leave out the allergens?

Why would SOY sauce contain more WHEAT than soy?

Why would SOY sauce contain more WHEAT than soy?

Normally I would not post to ask the world to adjust to me and my food allergies, but here’s a case where it seems to me it wouldn’t cause anybody any trouble, or not much trouble, so I’m going to ask….

On the whole, this is a great time (if there ever is a great time for such a thing) to have food allergies. The world has become a far more understanding and accommodating place.

When I was a kid, eating out was like walking through a minefield. And if I tried to enlist a server in my cause, all I would get is a blank look. I came to believe that most people on the planet had never heard of food allergies, and when I tried to tell them, it was just the most outlandish thing they’d ever heard of.

And usually, they didn’t get it at all. Sometimes, they’d try to show they understood by saying, “So you don’t like cheese…” To which, if I were in an explanatory mood, I’d say, No, that’s not it. I don’t have the slightest idea whether I would like cheese or not. I’ve never had it. I suspect, based on the smell and my knowledge of how it is made (by letting milk spoil), I would not like it at all. But that is entirely beside the point. If you serve me cheese and I don’t know it, and eat it,I may die. At the very least, I’ll get really sick here in front of you, and it won’t be pretty. So just don’t bring me anything with cheese on it or in it…

… you freaking moron, I didn’t add, athough I wanted to.

But often, I just let it go, not wanting to converse about it any more than necessary. In fact, whenever possible, I’d avoid the conversation altogether. I didn’t eat out any more than I absolutely had to, and when I did I went to places I had been before and ordered things I knew were safe.

Now, at the slightest mention of an allergy problem, most waiters and waitresses become so attentive it’s slightly embarrassing. Some of them go fetch the chef and bring him out to interview me at some length.

As I say, embarrassing. But it’s gratifying to have them on board in the cause of not poisoning me.

Sure, there are some idiots out there who are dismissive of these things — watch, some of them will comment on this post — and regard allergies as a character flaw. But their ilk is rapidly become extinct as our species evolves.

This is also a good era for avoiding hazards with prepared, packaged foods. When I was kid, if I wanted a milk substitute for cooking or just to put on cold cereal, I had to use soy-based baby formula — something I had to make sure the other guys never knew, because they would have given me the business, as the Beav and Wally would say.

Now, there’s soy milk and almond milk and coconut milk and cashew milk and several other kinds, and it’s available everywhere, not just in specialty food shops. You buy it and take it home, and nobody looks at you funny.

Better than that… and here I’m finally getting to my point… makers of prepackaged food have started calling attention to allergens in their ingredients! You don’t have to read all the ingredients any more — just look at the boldfaced listing of allergens at the end! This saves a lot of time.

But it makes me want more…

There are a lot of food products out there that are sometimes made with allergens and sometimes not. And I suppose sometimes the allergens make a difference. Other times, I doubt that they do.

Take soy sauce, for instance. What would you think would be the dominant ingredient in soy sauce, aside from water? Soybeans, right?

Wrong. Unless it’s listed as “gluten-free” soy sauce, as often as not, the next ingredient after water is wheat. Which, aside from being a threat to people with celiac disease, is also an allergen. And while I don’t have celiac (although some in my family do), wheat is one of the things that I’m allergic to. Not as dangerously allergic as I am to milk and eggs, but it can cause my asthma to act up. (One of the things about having a bunch of food allergies is that you become a connoisseur of reactions — I know what allergen I was exposed to by how I react. With wheat, my breathing passages tighten up.)

To my knowledge — and if you know different, say so — there is no appreciable difference between soy sauce made largely with wheat and soy sauce that’s all soy.

So, here’s my question: Why not just leave the wheat out of all the soy sauce? Why go to the trouble and expense of purchasing and adding that extra ingredient, then having to put warnings on your labels about it?

It would never have occurred to me years ago to ask this, because I assumed that to most people, food allergies were such a mystery that it would be asking too much for a food product manufacturer to know something was an allergen and leave it out.

But now I can see, on every prepackaged food, that manufacturers know which ingredients are allergens — they point them out on every label.

So… why not just leave them out? Granted, few of us out here are allergic to this or that ingredient, but why not just make a product that everybody can safely eat?

This won’t work with everything — for instance, soy itself is an allergen. (In fact, I’m slightly allergic to it myself, but so slightly compared to my real allergies, I ignore it and just try to consume soy in moderation.) I’m not asking that anyone leave the soy out of soy sauce.

But it seems eminently reasonable to me to ask, why not just leave out the wheat, always?

Why not just make ALL soy sauce "gluten-free?"

Why not just make ALL soy sauce “gluten-free?”

39 thoughts on “Here’s an idea: Why not just leave out the allergens?

  1. Norm Ivey

    If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the wheat is either there for economics (take make cheaper/quicker/more) or science (the wheat somehow enhances the fermentation process).

    Surely there has to be a difference in taste between wheat soy sauce and non-wheat soy sauce.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’ve never noticed it. For years, I paid no attention to whether the soy sauce had wheat or not — I went through a period when I ignored the wheat allergy (but eventually decided it was contributing to chronic asthma trouble, and not being able to breathe is a drag).

      Tasted the same to me.

      Of course, I don’t hold myself out as a person with refined taste buds. If it won’t kill me, I’ll eat it. Which reminds me — I haven’t had any fried bologna in years. I love it with some hoppin’ john…

  2. bud

    Everybody take note. Brad is acknowledging that something has gotten better since the 60s. I would maintain far more things have gotten better since the 60s. Very, very few have gotten worse. Longing for the good ole days? They never existed.

    1. Richard

      “Longing for the good ole days? They never existed.”

      You mean even the days when we had manufacturing in this country and anyone who wanted a living wage could get one straight out of high school? Don’t have a college degree or graduate from a trade school what is left for you… Walmart, mowing lawns/landscaping, or Starbucks.

      I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and I’d trade 95% of that lifestyle for what we have today.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      “They never existed.” Yes, they did. Before January 2017, Donald Trump was not president of the United States. All of U.S. history up until that point was better than now.

      That said, you are laboring under a misapprehension if you think I don’t recognize things that get better. This is one example. There’s another related to it — I almost never find myself trapped in a place where I have to breathe tobacco smoke. That’s a huge improvement.

      But here’s the thing: History is not a long, uninterrupted march into a better world. Things change constantly, and the change is a mix between good and bad.

      Sometimes, change is both good AND bad. Take medical advancement. Within my lifetime, we’ve seen advancements that help more and more people live longer, healthier lives. But that has gone hand in hand with rising costs that overwhelm the people helped by these advancements, or denying them these services altogether when they can’t afford them.

      People who live today are not smarter, better, more enlightened than people living 50 and 60 years ago. But far too many of them think they are. And someone needs to disabuse them of that notion.

      I’ll start that argument with this: Evolution doesn’t work that fast…

      1. Claus2

        ““They never existed.” Yes, they did. Before January 2017, Donald Trump was not president of the United States. All of U.S. history up until that point was better than now.”

        So let’s try this again… since you deleted it the first time.

        So your life personally turned for the worse the day Donald Trump was sworn in… how so? You seem to complain a lot about hardship and how life is much worse today than it was a little over a year ago.

        I guess what caused you to delete my post was that I pointed out to you that you don’t know what real hardship or pain is in life. That you’ve never dealt with the loss of an immediate family member (child, sibling, spouse, or parent) like many of us have. So you have no idea what you’re talking about when you speak of hardship and how life is so unfair these days.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yeah, I didn’t allow it because I’m tired of you saying the same irrelevant things over and over. I’m allowing it this time just so I can make that point. Again.

          We’re not going to be able to have a constructive conversation on the subject, because we look at public life completely differently. In our discussion here, I think in terms of the public good, of the whole country, and of the free world of which America is the leading member.

          That you say things like “So your life personally turned for the worse” shows that we just don’t look at the same things at all. What does my personal life, or your personal life, or anyone’s personal life, have to do with the impact on the country of having this grossly unfit man leading it?

          We’re talking about a guy who has been nationally famous primarily as a comically tacky sleazeball for about three decades or more. I care about who the president of my country is. I care who sits in the position of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln and FDR. I care about the shame that his presence in that seat brings upon the nation. It’s important to my country that the president be a person of at least average moral character, and of greater-than-average understanding of issues and skill in navigating them. He does not come anywhere close to possessing these qualities. He is a walking, talking mockery of what we need in a president.

          My personal life, my family, have nothing to do with this topic. What we talk about here with regard to national politics is the public life that we all hold in common, outside of our intimate personal lives.

          And the public life of this nation is in crisis…

  3. bud

    And for my libertarian friends out there this is yet another example of how government can serve the public far better than the invisible hand.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, and no.

      I mean, I agree with your point completely.

      But a lot of the improvement I mention above is a result of things happening in the marketplace. Markets have developed for soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, etc.

      Also, there’s been a cultural change in the food service industry. It used to be, “Here’s what we’ve got. No substitutions.”

      Restaurants are far more solicitous of their diners than they used to be, catering more to their LIKES as well as to their NEEDS.

      Which is fine. Although I find it really irritating to place my order after some fussy person who has been VERY particular about what he or she wants and doesn’t want. I feel like I’m adding to the server’s burden with my actual NEEDS.

      Consequently, I don’t have a lot of patience with vegetarians and vegans and such and their purely ideological preferences. If you CAN eat it, eat it, and stop inconveniencing everybody.

      The unnecessarily fussy people actually cause harm. For instance, right now it’s terribly fashionable to avoid gluten. This has caused a backlash in which lots of people are very dismissive of the gluten-avoiders. But if one of my precious granddaughters gets some gluten from someone who is sick of hearing about the issue and doesn’t believe it’s a real issue, she can end up in the hospital in excruciating pain.

      Before she was diagnosed after several such incidents, I used to be sort of impatient with the gluten-free crowd. It bugged me that a whole industry had risen up to serve those folks, while no one had ever shown much interest in producing products for those of us who were ALLERGIC to wheat (there were substitute products in health-food stores, but not in regular supermarkets).

      I’ve learned that for people with severe celiac, avoiding gluten can be a higher-stakes issue, and MUCH harder to accomplish, than dealing with my own allergies…

      1. Norm Ivey

        I was once guilty of fussiness. I hate coconut, and when people used to offer me food containing coconut, I would refuse it, claiming an allergy. I mainly did it so they wouldn’t keep saying Try it. You’ll LIKE it! It wasn’t until I saw a child with a true allergy to peanuts have an episode that I realized I had no business claiming an allergy. Now, when offered something I don’t care for, I politely decline or choke it down and keep my distastes to myself.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I could never afford it. Fussiness, I mean. I was always pretty grateful to get something I could eat.

          Although when I was a kid, I didn’t like coconut, either. Now, it’s my preferred “milk” alternative…

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Reading your line about “guilty of fussiness,” and smiling.

          In the Aubrey/Maturin books of which Bryan and I are fond, sometimes a Royal Navy officer is brought before a court martial after failing to get along with a fellow officer, and in the end is convicted of “petulance.”

          I love that. I wish our modern civil law allowed for such a charge…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Yeah, but I need to catch up. I need to reread The Hundred Days, which I’ve only read once and that was awhile back. I think you know why I haven’t been eager to reread that one, given two things that happen in it, and the cold way they happen.

              And I’ve never read Blue at the Mizzen. I’m hoping O’Brian got his groove back in that one. Hundred Days just wasn’t quite the thing…

      2. Richard

        Why is this suddenly a problem now? I don’t remember one person growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s who was allergic to peanuts, who had celiac disease, who could drop dead from gluten. We had one girl in my class who was a diabetic but that was about it.

        My neighbor informed me about a year ago that when a grade school child has a birthday he can bring cupcakes to school. BUT they have to be store bought cupcakes in a sealed container which must include a list of all ingredients, homemade cupcakes get tossed in the trash. I remember people bringing homemade cupcakes and birthday cakes for the whole class and no one ended up in the ER.

        With sudden health changes such as these Stephen Hawkings may be correct… we have about 300 more years on this earth before we become one of the extinct species.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          There has indeed been a surge in recent decades in the incidence of autoimmune diseases (which include celiac, and have a relationship I don’t fully understand to allergies).

          It’s a problem that our modern society hasn’t fully figured out how to deal with. There are various theories, including Western affluence itself.

          There are a lot of explanations out there, if you’re really interested. You know, if you actually want to know what’s causing the problem and aren’t one of those people who think it’s something made up by a bunch of whiners who lack the strength of character of folks back when you were a kid and all God’s children ate cupcakes.

          Which your comment sort of implies…

          The prevalence of such conditions is a two-edged sword for me. On the one hand, I know longer live in a world in which most people are completely unfamiliar with a potentially life-threatening problem that I’ve had to live with for 64 years. That makes the world safer, and a little easier, for me.

          On the other hand, I’m sorry so many other people are having these problems…

          1. Claus2

            Apparently eating problems aren’t as common as you think. I walked across the USC campus earlier this week and got caught between a class change… easily 50% of the people I saw were fat. Not slightly overweight… but “I can’t see my feet” fat… and there needs to be guidelines who can and can not wear yoga pants. If these people are this big at 18-22 years old what happens when they’re 38-42?

            I remember when areas such as the Horseshoe weren’t littered by beached whales sucking down some 4000 calorie whipped cream Starbucks drink in the Spring.

              1. Richard

                If it’s a symptom of affluence, why do I see more fat people at Walmart than I do at Dillards? I’m old enough to remember when poor people were skinny. If that’s a form of fat shaming, I don’t care… if your waist size is larger than your inseam you need to stop shoveling stuff in your mouth.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Notice that I said RELATIVE affluence, and I said that for a specific reason.

                  Our poor have much better access to food than the poor through most of human history. Relatively few, historically speaking, are starving for lack of ANY food. They are also less-well-educated than people in higher-income groups, and don’t have a regular family physician telling them to stop eating all that junk.

                  And left to their own devices, without the education telling them otherwise, humans will listen to the mechanisms in their unevolved brains that tell them to stock up as many carbohydrates and fats as possible, because most humans in the past didn’t know when their next meal was coming.

                  That’s a dangerous demographic to be in — to have access to all the food you want, but not know enough to eat wisely.

                  It’s why I have no problem with limiting the kinds of foods folks can get with “food stamps” and through other programs designed to help feed the poor. It makes little sense to kill people with our kindness…

      3. bud

        I don’t have a lot of patience with vegetarians and vegans and such and their purely ideological preferences. If you CAN eat it, eat it, and stop inconveniencing everybody.

        Talk about your complete lack of appreciation for a different world view, a form a bigotry really. Sheesh. Vegans and vegetarians have well thought-out and noble reasons for eating the way they do. It’s really an insult not just to VVs but to people everywhere that have a point of view that differs from your own. Aside from the obvious moral implications of the horrendous cruelty involved in the raising and slaughter of animals, a meat-free diet is both healthy for the body and the planet. As we toil to try and feed 7 billion souls it’s important to do so with the fewest resources necessary. Raising large mammals for the express purpose of killing them exacerbates the growing problems of over population. We cannot simply dismiss people of good faith because we may find their beliefs “weird” to one’s narrow world perspective. Rather than expressing “impatience” perhaps an open minded look at how people do what they do would be more helpful.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Lighten up, bud. The worst I did was, as you say, express “impatience” with people who expect others to go out of the way to accommodate their culinary ideologies. I’m allowed to do that.

          I hope you picked up on my larger point. I don’t like asking waiters and cooks to accommodate my needs — which are actual NEEDS. I hate it, in fact. And knowing these same people are constantly besieged by people who are demanding accommodation for their PREFERENCES makes me dislike having to make my own requests even more.

          Can you understand that? Can you see how that might lead to impatience on my part?

          If so, then maybe you can drop the nonsense about intolerance for “world views.”

          1. bud

            Really? You call people ideologues for a lifestyle choice and then tell me to lighten up? Pretty narrow minded in my book.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Um, bud… you just described the ideology, in some detail:

              Vegans and vegetarians have well thought-out and noble reasons for eating the way they do…. Aside from the obvious moral implications of the horrendous cruelty involved in the raising and slaughter of animals, a meat-free diet is both healthy for the body and the planet. As we toil to try and feed 7 billion souls it’s important to do so with the fewest resources necessary. Raising large mammals for the express purpose of killing them exacerbates the growing problems of over population….

              So… how is it not ideological? And therefore, how are its practitioners not ideologues?

                1. Doug Ross

                  Do my Indian friends who have been vegans since birth fall into the category of those who are making a “lifestyle choice”? My friends frequently have to ask for certain accommodations or explanations from servers or cooks. I don’t see any difference between them and those who have certain allergies. The only real lifestyle choice they can make is to only eat at Indian or vegan restaurants.

                2. Richard

                  “The only real lifestyle choice they can make is to only eat at Indian or vegan restaurants.”

                  I’d starve to death. As a friend of mine who loves Indian food she says I should try this brown stuff over that brown stuff. Nastiest food outside the Far East where those people have no common sense when it comes to food.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Bryan, Richard reminds me of the foremast hands on HMS Surprise: They wanted none of that “foreign mess;” they wanted their salt pork and beef, and dried peas on banyan days.

                    It was what they were used to, and they liked what they were used to…

                    I need to get busy reading The Hundred Days so I can catch up to you…

                3. Doug Ross

                  I hadn’t tried Indian food up until three years ago. While I don’t like everything, I’ve found many dishes that are pretty good — especially the breads naan and bhatura (which is essentially the same as fried dough you get at the fair).

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    I like some Indian food. I almost always like it when my daughter cooks it.

                    But I’m not adventurous when it comes to eating out. If the place is authentic, it tends to have cooks and servers from the country of origin, and there’s the language barrier. And with my allergies, I’m very dependent on clear communication with those folks. I’m just barely confident enough to go to Mexican places, since I was fluent in Spanish as a kid and can sort of make do with it now. But what I do in those places is order things I ordered before, and survived.

                    I recommend the arroz con camarones at La Fogata. But I have to ask them to leave out the queso. Otherwise, there’s this pool of melted cheese UNDER the hot rice when it’s served. Very sneaky…

        2. Richard

          If it’s so normal to be vegetarian and vegan, why do we have teeth that more resemble other meet eating animals than grain and plant eating animals?

          bud are you a vegetarian or vegan? If not isn’t that kind of hypocritical?

          Besides, most vegans and vegetarians I’ve met seem… sickly looking.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Richard, you beat me to it. I know I’m not a vegetarian, and not MEANT to be a vegetarian, every time I look in a mirror and see my teeth.

            Of course, with me it’s also a matter of eating anything I CAN eat. I can’t afford to rule out meat — either in terms of my limited diet or in terms of money. I like to make fruit smoothies for breakfast on the weekend, and I always include a scoop of a plant-based, chocolate-flavored protein powder. But that stuff is EXPENSIVE. The rest of the week, I have my bacon and sausage and on Fridays (except in Lent, so I’m really looking forward to next week), these little slices of beef steak they cook at Cap City.

            Vegetarians generally get their protein from beans. My digestive system would never tolerate eating that many beans, and I’d be a very unpopular guy…

  4. Norm Ivey

    I’ve been curious about this all day. This article has an explanation towards the end. It’s about science in the interest of flavor. By including wheat in the fermentation process, the saltiness of the soy is countered. Soy sauce without wheat is called tamari.

    Other articles seemed to indicate that brewed soy sauce has wheat, but no gluten whereas blended soy sauce has wheat and gluten. I’m not recommending that you try either, however.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Thanks for that.

      One of the limitations of Google is that when I searched “why is there wheat in soy sauce,” I got lots of items about the FACT that there was wheat in soy sauce, but no explanations as to WHY. Or at least, the explanations weren’t displayed prominently…

      1. Norm Ivey

        I got the same results. I finally found what I found by asking Google how to make soy sauce. I figured a recipe would explain why wheat is added. The linked article was several results down the list.

  5. Claus2

    Well now that the soy sauce debate is over, maybe we can move on to ketchup. Do you realize how much sugar is in ketchup???

    More important for those suckers who are into social media, how about discussing how much data is extracted from your phone from apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Starbucks, etc…. The Today Show did a segment this morning on how to see how much data Facebook has on you and how you can retrieve it. Have you lost a text message from 2014… don’t worry, Facebook has it. Don’t remember where you were at 1:34 pm on March 28, 2016… don’t worry, Facebook has it. Want to retrieve a lost photo from 2013 or forgot what you used ApplePay for on any particular date… Facebook has it. They said the Starbucks app was nearly as bad.

  6. Burl Burlingame

    My wife has been hospitalized because of celiac disease problems. Gluten is a very real danger for her — but it wasn’t most of her life. She developed Polymyositis in her 50s, a fairly rare autoimmune disease that inflamed other dormant immunities in her system. In other words, the doctors think she was always gluten-sensitive, but the symptoms were simply mild cramping and nausea, and so hard to pin down. But then it got really bad, and if she gets even a few molecules of wheat in her system, she suffers terribly.

    Like everything else, there are degrees of sensitivity, but Gluten allergy is a real thing. Those who make fun of people with gluten alleges are clueless a-holes.

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