When you think of someone having a “food allergy,” the first thought that comes to one’s mind is an issue with peanuts. Although peanuts are the most common food allergen (followed by milk and then shellfish), cashew reactions are seemingly on the rise. There are a few theories as to why this may be. One is that the consumption of cashews is on the rise. Another theory is that people exposed to higher levels of certain germ- and weed-killing chemicals may be more likely to develop food allergies. Researcher Elina Jerschow, M.D., an allergist at Montefiore Medical Center, investigated the chemicals called dichlorophenols (DCPs), which are created by the breakdown of common pesticides, including chlorinated chemicals used to purify drinking water. DCPs also can be found in moth balls, air fresheners, deodorizer cakes in urinals, and certain herbicides sprayed on crops.

Taking the rise in cashew allergies into consideration, it has been noted that cashews cause more severe allergic reactions than peanuts do. In a recent study, children with cashew reactions were eight times more likely to have potentially severe cardiovascular symptoms (Clark, Andrew T. Cashew nut causes more severe reactions than peanut: casematched comparison in 141 children. Allergy 2007).

Why are we eating more cashews than ever? There are a few different reasons. The (completely understandable) fear of eating peanuts, have caused people to start consuming other nuts such as almonds, cashews, etc. Additionally, cashews increasingly are found in more and more foods. Cashews are being used in many vegan foods and recipes, even kale chips! Cashews are even being replaced in certain products that contain almonds, presumably due to the increase cost of almonds.

Despite the notoriety of peanut allergies, cashews seem to be a growing concern, and one that should be further researched.