Vanessa Pike-Russell

When I met my husband I had no idea how many people suffered from an allergy to capsicum and how much it affected their ability to buy takeaway food and pre-prepared meals such as frozen vegetable mixes, sauce mixes and European foods.

Minor attacks would include dizziness, shortness of breath, belching, vomiting, constriction of throat, followed by days of 'Burp! Capsicum' cries and the sweating out of capsicum through the skin and a particular body odour for days afterwards.

ALSO KNOWN AS: Food Allergy - bell pepper

"Food Allergy - bell pepper: A bell pepper allergy is an adverse reaction by the body's immune system to bell peppers or food containing bell pepper. The body's immune system produces immunoglobulin E (IgE - an antibody) and histamine in response to contact with the allergen. The specific symptoms that can result can vary considerably amongst patients from a severe anaphylactic reaction to asthma, abdominal symptoms, eczema or headaches." (Wrong - Allergy to capsicum)

So many restaurants in Australia use capsicum to liven up the colour of a dish, the vibrant yellow, red and green capsicum also adding some flavour as well as colour. Unfortunately, most do not realise that for some of their patrons the capsicum oil can cause a fierce allergic reaction when fresh capsicums have been used, at worst causing an asthma attack.

Never heard of capsicum? Perhaps you have heard of some of its other names:

Other Names:

African Bird Pepper, African Chillies, African Pepper, Bird Pepper, Capsaicin, Capsicum annuum, Capsicum baccatum, Capsicum chinense, Capsicum frutescens, Capsicum minimum, Capsicum pubscens, Cayenne, Cayenne Pepper, Chili, Chili Pepper, Chilli,...
See All NamesAfrican Bird Pepper, African Chillies, African Pepper, Bird Pepper, Capsaicin, Capsicum annuum, Capsicum baccatum, Capsicum chinense, Capsicum frutescens, Capsicum minimum, Capsicum pubscens, Cayenne, Cayenne Pepper, Chili, Chili Pepper, Chilli, Chillies, Cis-capsaicin, Garden Pepper, Goat's Pod, Grains Of Paradise, Green Chili Pepper, Green Pepper, Hot Pepper, Hungarian Pepper, Ici Fructus, Katuvira, Louisiana Long Pepper, Louisiana Sport Pepper, Mexican Chilies, Mirchi, Oleoresin capsicum, Paprika, Pimento, Red Pepper, Sweet Pepper, Tabasco Pepper, trans-capsaicin, Zanzibar Pepper, Zucapsaicin." (Webmd)

Is it surprising that I find it difficult to screen all the prepared food items available in supermarkets and deli's when there are so many names for capsicum? What's even more confusing is that not all forms cause an allergic reaction. Paprika powder does not seem to cause a reaction and yet some hidden capsicum in a stir fry can cause dizzy spells, throat closing up and panic attacks.

"All peppers contain capsicum, the stuff that makes peppers hot, in varying amounts. Also present in peppers, in differing amounts or not at all, are profilins, Bet V1 (a common food allergen), and protein P23. A sampling of ten different peppers might all look the same, but, depending on the strain, a person with a pepper allergy might react to all of them, only three of them, or none of them. An allergy is the body's immune system response to an allergen. On the first exposure to an allergen, the body becomes sensitized. No symptoms of an allergic reaction are noticed but the body produces an antibody IgE. At the next exposure to the allergen, the body is prepared to defend itself against the allergen. More IgE is produced and an allergic reaction occurs which may include runny nose, sneezing, wheezing, itching, swelling, hives, vomiting, stomach cramps or diarrhea. With each subsequent exposure to the allergen, the body has an increased allergic response. This type of allergy is known as a Class I or complete food allergy... characterized by itching, tingling, swelling, and lesions in and around the mouth. A less common occurrence with OAS is anaphylaxis, the life-threatening allergic response resulting in narrowing airways, decreased blood pressure and heart malfunction." ( - Capsicum)


* Mexican food - ingredients often state 'bell pepper' or 'red pepper'
* Italian food - capsicum is used a lot in recipes. Make sure you check the ingredients of a sauce or in recipes. My favourite recipe for Spaghetti Bolognaise included capsicum which added a savoury sweetness to the dish
* Chinese take-aways - more and more restaurants and take-aways are using capsicum for colour and flavour. Get to know your staff and check that there is no capsicum in the dish or garnish

* frozen vegetable mixes
* salsa
* salad bars
* pizza toppings

Create a business card to hand to the waiter which states the allergy and known names for capsicum. Most people are unaware of capsicum allergy and will send back your dish with the offending capsicum removed from the plate rather than re-making it, leaving behind the oil of the capsicum on the meal which can still cause a reaction. Sometimes all it can take is for a piece of capsicum to be leaning against another ingredient in a dish for it to cross-contaminate due to the oils released by the capsicum in cooking.

Make sure to ask the waiter to ask the chef if there is capsicum in the recipe, sauce or garnish. You'd be surprised how many times I have requested 'no capsicum' for a dish to be served which has fresh capsicum as garnish.

If you wish to have salad with your meal but there are lashings of fresh and cooked capsicum throughout the salad bar ask the waiter to put aside some capsicum-free salad the next time they are freshening up the salad bar. It is often used only as garnish and a sampling of the salad bar without capsicum has often been possible.

If you work in the food industry and are aware of some patrons that have allergies to capsicums please make sure to include capsicum in the list of ingredients or include an itemised list of dishes that do contain capsicum or the availability of dishes that can be prepared without capsicum in dish or garnish.

It can be frustrating for a waiter to be told that a dish has capsicum and has to be sent back so try and make the most of your time when ordering to double check with the chef or staff that there is no capsicum in either of your meals. We often like to share a taste of each other's meals so be sure to express that despite the fact only one party member may have the allergy you would prefer there was no capsicum on either plate.

When ordering pizzas make sure to be very clear to the person taking your order that there is to be absolutely no capsicum in the meal. If they do send you out a pizza or other meal that does contain capsicum take a photo, phone them up and have them replace it. When it starts to cost them for making the mistake they will be more likely to remember you the next time you order.

An example is the two pizzas below. The one on the right arrived first, a supreme pizza which was ordered with the explicit instructions - NO capsicum. As you can tell, what we received was loaded with capsicums of three varieties. The pizza on the left was what we received as the replacement. When we showed the driver the difference between the two pizzas he was as amazed as we were with how dramatic it was. One slice of pizza had been eaten because it took over half an hour for the replacement pizza to arrive. The driver said that we could keep both pizzas and it was eaten by a house guest who had no problem with capsicum but it just goes to prove how easily a mistake like this could happen.

Supreme Pizzas - one  loaded with capsicum (bell peppers) by you.

There have been times when my husband has gone without a meal simply because the words NO CAPSICUM hadn't been written on the document. There are some waiters who will glare and return with the same plate, only the capsicum has been picked off the dish and no attempt to hide the fact they don't care.

ALSO KNOWN AS: Food Allergy - bell pepper


Image of Capsicum from Wikipedia - Allergic reactions to bell peppers

Hort - capsicum pepper

WebMD - Capsicum

Wrong - Allergy to Bell Pepper (Capsicum)

Article written by Vanessa Pike-Russell for Illawarra Food Reviews

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2 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks so much for the post on Pepper Allergies! I wish they could start training chefs/cooks that you can't just pick the pepper off of the food.

  2. clekitty Says:

    I have to say that this is a really interesting blog post. I never knew that even if you cooked the capsicum and took it out people still can't eat the food due to the oils. Thanks for the interesting article!

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