Kidney beans aren’t used widely in British cuisine, in fact the only meal I’ve ever used them in is chilli so a recent bout of full-on head, eye, nose and allergic reactions recently took a bit of detective work. We narrowed it down to the chilli and it wasn’t until cooking it without kidney beans because we didn’t have any in the cupboard that the penny dropped.
So why would I suddenly have a pretty awful allergic reaction, instantly, while eating chilli with kidney beans one week, just out of the blue? A little bit of research helped to shed some light onto the rather confusing legume family.
So what’s a kidney bean?
The kidney bean, also known as red bean, is a common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) and also part of the legume family.
It’s called a kidney bean because it looks a bit like a kidney and is also a similar colour.
Kidney red beans can be confused with other beans that are red, such as azuki beans and they can also be called “red peas”.
They are most commonly used in chilli-con-carne and are widely used in cooking in India and can also be used to make refried beans which is a Mexican dish. In Spain caparrones are small fried kidney beans.
Kidney beans are more toxic than most other bean varieties if not pre-soaked and subsequently heated to the boiling point for at least 10 minutes.
What are legumes?
The legume family consist of beans, peas, lentils and peanuts but there are loads of different varieties:
- Arabic/Gum Arabic (derived from acacia)
- Bean sprouts
- Beans – Baked – Black – Black turtle – Broad – Brown – Butter – Fagioli – Fava – Garbanzos (another name for chickpeas) – Great Northern – Guar – Haricot – Jack – Kidney – Lima – Masur – Mongo – Mung – Navy – Pink – Pinto – Red – Snap – Tonka – Wax – White
- Locust bean gum
- Coffee pod
- Clover Fenugreek – in curry, chutney, and/or dhal – in cinnamon – in halva – may be in pickles
Garbanzos – gram flour – hummus – in Burmese Tofu – in falafel – in farinata – in Indian food “chana” – in poppadoms
- Gram flour (derived from garbanzos)
- Green beans
- Guar gum
- Lentils – in dal
- Mesquite – in barbeque liquid smoke – in charcoal and as gluten free flour
- Peas – Blackeyed Peas – Chickpeas/Garbanzos – Cowpeas – Field pea – Green – Purple hull – Snow Peas – Split Peas – Couscous!
- Rooibos – in tea
- Senna (another name for cassia) – in laxatives – may be in curry (but is probably just the cassia tree bark, rather than the cassia legume)
- Soya beans
- String beans
- Tamarind – in Worcester sauce – in HP sauce – used as an herbal tea – in sambhar – in chutneys – in many Mexican candies, one is called pulparindo
I was most surprised to see Rooibos and vanilla in this list (Noooooo – not the rooibosh tea?) and also tamarind, which I also use in Thai cooking and mesquite which I use in baking cakes and cookies. I’m pretty sure none of these cause me a problem but if you are getting unexplained issues it’s really interesting to examine a food family like this.
What is kidney bean allergy?
A kidney bean allergy is rare, but if you react to other legumes then they may cause you a problem e.g. peanuts and soya beans, which are two of the top fourteen most common allergens.
A kidney bean allergy is the result of an overactive immune reaction to the proteins found in the bean. Shortly after eating the kidney bean, your body sees the proteins in the food as an invader and begins to defend itself with antibodies and histamine. Antibodies are released to fight off the kidney bean proteins, and histamine attempts to protect the body from infection. Too much histamine causes inflammation in soft tissue in various places in the body. This is the main cause of most kidney bean allergy symptoms.
Symptoms from a kidney bean allergy can vary from mild to moderate. In rare cases, you may develop a severe allergic reaction that can cause anaphylactic shock. Common symptoms include nasal congestion, asthma, digestive complications and skin rashes, according to Mayo Clinic. You may become short of breath, have difficulty breathing, begin wheezing, coughing and sneezing. Digestive symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain. Your skin may react by forming hives or eczema anywhere on the body.
One study in India entitled ‘Kidney bean: a major sensitizer among legumes in asthma and rhinitis patients from India’ can be found in PlosOne, 2011. Read the abstract here – Kidney bean: a major sensitizer among legumes in asthma and rhinitis patients from India.
Luckily for me this didn’t cause anaphylaxis, just hives, itching on my skin and a huge amount of mucous like with a really bad cold or hay fever but these allergic reactions can change over time. One exposure could give you cold like symptoms and the next time it could cause anaphylaxis. Understanding your body and what it’s reacting to and why is really important but often mystifying if you can’t pinpoint which ingredient is causing you the problem.
I was suspecting chilli, pepper, herbs and spices, cross contamination of some kind and not even thinking about the humble kidney bean. But I’m very glad to get to the bottom of that one. And rather glad it’s kidney beans, which I don’t even like that much, so no great loss!
Anyone else out there with an allergy to all legumes? or can you eat some legumes? Have you also had new legume or other allergies accumulate over time?
References – further reading
To read more on the difference between nuts, seeds and legumes read ‘Nuts and seeds’.
Kidney beans are also very high in lectins, find out more about this on the Foods Matter website.
Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/368375-kidney-beans-and-allergies/#ixzz2Ux3cn7Fx
Dave jones says
My daughter has a confirmed (prick test) allergy to red kidney beans, in addition to other legumes, such as haricot bean, peanut and lupine flour. She can however eat peas and other legumes such as tamarind.
I can eat peas, lentils etc. but not peanuts, kidney beans or soya beans. Very complex.
When I was young, between 1 and 3, I spent many weeks in hospital with severe asthma. It was only in my mid teams that I started developing severe allergic reactions to baked beans that I discovered I had a red bean allergy. Some episodes expanded into eating red fried beans into tacos unknowingly. Thinking that this was all I had to stay away from recently I have a vanilla bean shortcake and this also caused a reaction. Confused I looked into it more and surprise surprise, as mentioned above, this is also part of the same allergy family.
Hi Paul, interesting. I wonder if you have always had a problem with vanilla too or whether this is a new reaction? Things can change over time. It’s all very confusing. I think broad beans are giving me a problem too, especially when raw. Can you eat peanuts I wonder?
I get cold sores whenever I eat nuts and kidney beans… It’s really hard because I’ve decided to be vegetarian!
I definitely get cold sores from food triggers too. Kidney beans and bread beans do it, many processed foods and eggs sometimes. Weird but true! Get some tea tree and also Herstat propolis works a treat on mine. Never had one since using that.
I have just had the same kind of eureka.
For the past week or so, concurrent with a virus running around my peer-group (I am usually fairly immune), I have had the worst asthmatic nights I’ve had since I was very young. Today, home early, I made a chili using the final tin of ‘Red Chili Beans in Tomato Sauce’ from a six-pack I bought about ten days ago. I ate early and am experiencing right now the same asthma symptoms as had kept me up all night on five previous occasions in the same period.
I hadn’t seen it because I am normally no problemo with chili beans but these are red and, I suspect, despite the ‘in tomato sauce’ are to be treated as uncooked.
I will certainly be avoiding these as soon as I get my breath back. Been quite a close shave at times as I have nothing LIKE asthma medicine or inhalers etc having not had this condition for such a very long time.
Thanks for your article and comments, people
It took me far too long to suss out kidney beans was giving me a problem. Because tomatoes do too, so I thought I’d sussed it out. And them bam. Glad to have helped you towards your eureka. I do love those when they happen.
Since I wrote, those symptoms got all the worse overnight and today but now seem to be receding. In my case, I am not allergic to things like peanuts as nuts are among my big dietary items and have never had any noticable problems off other legumes but because kidney beans are now 110% definite, I may have to consider that my mum did use kidney beans and similar (eg butter beans) a LOT in meals back when I was young!
So it is really quite the eureka although only the fact that I had made a chili early yesterday (ie. for lunch rather than evening meal) could have clued me in. I found myself at 5pm with what I’d previously had at maybe midnight and since I already definitely did have a cold/flu, it would have been easy to have missed it for another x years!
I’m late to the discussion, but I thought I’d add my little bit anyway. I am allergic to all legumes, but some are worse than others. In order of severity: peanuts, peas, soy, kidney beans, and green beans. I get extremely itchy and develop a rash. Usually the rash is on my face and neck/chest, but it can be on my back. I have had a tight throat, but nothing more serious than that. I do carry an epipen though because my doc loves me. I can usually eat soy sauce in moderation, but soy milk is really bad. I can’t even smell peanuts without getting itchy, though I think that that one is in my head.
I just found this site online. I’ve never had any food allergy before (except peaches now that I think about it but it’s not severe). Last June I went to Japan and my second day there I had a bad allergy reaction just after breakfast. It felt like something was stuck in my throat and then a horrible burning sensation (I thought it was heart burn) and then, my throat closed a little bit, I started wheezing, my whole body got red and itchy but after 2 Benadryl I started getting better. I suspected the shellfish in the mizo soup but then, I’ve never had problems with shellfish. I also remembered eating a small pastry filled with a paste of azuki beans (I’ve had this before without a problem too though). Anyway fast forward 2 months later, I’m at my mother’s house (my mom makes everything from scratch so we know everything that’s in the meal), and we’re eating diner. All stuff I’ve had before aside from that one thing she had made for the second time for me…..mashed white beans (a little like mashed potatoes). And then, in the same amount of time as in Japan, I started feeling the symptoms of the allergy reaction coming on. I took Benadryl faster than the last time so my throat didn’t close up a little but I did start wheezing and my skin got all red and itchy again. The only common thing I ate on both occasions is beans (azuki and white)…so I’m assuming this is what my problem is. But again, I’ve eaten both many times in my life without an issue. I’m seeing an allergist soon to pin point what caused this so I can avoid it but reading the comments here, I feel like this is very much a thing and a good starting point to discover what I’ve got.
Good luck with the specialist. If it is legumes they should be fairly easy to avoid, but peas and pea protein can appear in lots of foods, and nuts/peanuts are harder to avoid. Do take care though, reactions can get worse each time so I am glad you are so close to the link and seeing a specialist. I have recently started having problems with more legumes. Beans I have been eating all my live. Doesn’t make any sense does it? Why is this happening to us? It’s as if our bodies are going into some weird kind of self destruct. Hope you find some answers.
I did go to the specialist and it was exactly what I thought, a legume allergy. Anything from beans to chickpeas, lentils, peanuts and also soy. It’s also pretty severe (I got an epipen out of it). I’ve had hummus and chili all my life without so much as an itch but as soon as I ate that azuki bean paste my body decided “no more”. Even the peanut butter toasts I’ve had practically every morning of my life are banned (I get that fullness in the the troat feeling and my lips swell a little). It is the weirdest thing to now have to watch everything I eat after 28 years of eating everything without a problem (just the other day I took what I thought was an oatmeal cookie and thought “mmmh peanuts” after 2 bites just to realize “oh crap….peanuts!!!”). Anyway, I gotta get used to this and suggest to everyone that if they ever have a situation like that, to see a specialist right away and take it seriously, having eaten a food all your life does not give you immunity!
Hi Caroline, yes it is weird isn’t it. Where do these allergies come from? I am allergic to peanuts, soya, kidney beans and other beans but at the moment I CAN eat chick peas and lentils which is a bit strange. I am thankful for humous and lentil soup though. Stay safe and take care with cookies – peanuts might be lurking. You say you ate peanut butter nearly every day, do you think there is anything in the fact that you ate it too often maybe? There are lots of things we eat every day though so it’s confusing. Please stay safe and check those cookies before taking a bite.
My allergy tests revealed that I was moderately allergic to kidney beans and green beans. That was 4 years ago and I avoid both of them. I rarely ever had kidney beans, unless someone included them in a chili recipe, I suppose, but making garlic and mushroom green beans from fresh is something I made fairly often in my early thirties.
Since that time, I’ve notice tummy upset with other legumes, particularly those that are blended or pureed, such as “refried” beans. Homemade pre-soaked versions present less symptoms, however. I experience less upset with homemade hummus, as well. I wonder if there is something to the freshness and/or lack of soaking and preparation in the common ways that people tend to eat beans that causes this allergy tendency.
I am curious to learn what it is about kidney beans, specifically, that brings up food allergies in so many people too. What makes it different from other beans?
I realize this is an older post, but felt this worth posting anyhow. Thank you for your information! 🙂
Kidney beans are poisonous if not soaked, so I wonder if it has something to do with that. I get such a swift reaction to them, really full on. Took me ages to work out what it was, thought it was cross contamination as kidney beans are not that exciting really and we only ever put them in a chilli. it was having a chilli without one weekend when we ran out, then making it with the following week that clinched it. The legumes seem to be related, is it a digestion thing? I;m not sure. Not missing much though – they’re not that amazing so don’t mind avoid them. Broad beans too, never liked them, so quite happy to give them up. Just love shelling them from their lovely little soft sleeping bag cases. Happy for everyone else to eat those babies.
Hi – I realize this is an old article but as it is still online and coming up in the search engines, I thought I should point out that couscous isn’t a bean/legume. It’s a type of pasta.
You are quite right, cous cous is definitely not a legume. I hope I didn’t say that it was in this blog… I will check and edit any mistakes on this front. Cous cous is a gluten containing small round pasta which I think is wheat based but I could be wrong. Doesn’t agree with me at all and I have a wheat allergy.
Found this link after reacting, I think, to a combination of kidney beans and soy.
I’ve had red beans and rice my entire life, ever since I was a little girl. Recently I made them like I always do, substituting turkey kielbasa (containing soy) instead of polska kielbasa (which typically ALSO contains soy!)
Within minutes of eating, I was running to the bathroom as fast as I could go! It was an emergency, and my stomach ached and burned the rest of the evening. Now I have an odd, scaly rash on my face that I didn’t prior to eating.
I recently went GF (December 14, 2014) and quit smoking January 1, 2015. It’s my understanding that nicotine can actually provide a protective barrier, by irritating the small intestine to create mucous. Many people don’t realize the have Celiac Disease until they quit smoking. And unfortunately, a gluten sensitivity can overshadow other weird food sensitivities (like legumes.)
Apparently legumes and grains are very high in something called “lectins” and that’s what some people are reacting to. Stomach pain, skin reactions, migraines, joint pain… the works. Crazy, huh? So now I get to cut all grains and legumes out of my diet.
I haven’t heard about the lectins. Can you give me a link to an article? My son is allergic to peanuts, peas, and reacts to kidney beans. He is also allergic to wheat, rye, oats, and barley. What you are saying could be a clue to his troubles and help me understand it better. Thanks.
glad i just confirmed what I’ve been suspecting for years.. Everytime i had kidney beans I’d wake up in the morning with a sore throat and a ‘swollen’ sensation right under my jaw line and along the throat, even felt some uncomfort when swallowing.. guess it was a mild case of Anaphylaxis or something. Took me a while to pin point what food was causing this but had to take them one more time just to make sure lol.. and yes.. kidney beans were found guilty as charged.
My son is allergic to peanuts and peas and reacts to kidney beans. Thank you for this article. We make chili with pinto and black beans instead.
I have terrible stomach cramps that last 24-48 hours after eating any white beans , ( garbonzo, great northern, lima,navy, soy) Well soaked ( 48 hours plus) rinsed and cooked pinto or red beans are fine. Kidney beans are difficult to cook to the point where they are truly done. They cause moderate distress in the guts.
I’m over 50 with no food allergies in the past, but in the past year I occasionally would get a very tight throat after eating. I finally narrowed it down to kidney, refried, or black beans. Even just a few puréed in a vegetable soup (surprise!) cause this significant discomfort. Benadryl seems to help. No other symptoms, though, and no problems with any other beans or nuts. I regularly eat green beans, soy products, chick peas/hummus, peanuts, and tree nuts. This seems most odd.
sarah porritt says
I’ve always had sensitive skin and food intolerance, but nothing could have prepared me for what happened two days ago. One of the foods on my “intolerant” list is soy and other legumes like black beans. If I eat them daily I’ll get bothersome side effects like swollen lips and itchy throat and ear canal, coughing…unpleasant, but doable. And since I’m vegetarian, I have to eat these sometimes, just to help ensure I have enough protein in my diet.
Anyway, a couple days ago I found a “pasta” made from black beans. It was VERY high in protein. 25 grams of it per 180 calorie serving, to be exact! I prepared it and ate two servings worth. In less than an hour I started feeling nauseous and decided to take a nap. Upon waking, my lips were horribly swollen, I immediately starting throwing up the still completely undigested “pasta” and went into spasms that caused my vision and hearing to decrease and eventually disappear. When I finally came back to, there were 6 EMTs standing over me. They took me to the hospital and were able to bring me back to health. The scariest part was that, after I woke up and saw all the people around me, they kept asking me questions. I understood them but could not will myself to speak or move. I could barely breath. It felt like poison had been pushed into my actual veins and somehow I could “feel” it, as though my veins had nerves in them, and I just hurt everywhere, from the inside out. I was also HORRIBLY cold.
Anyway, to make a long story short, they pumped me full of about a million drugs, a couple liters of saline and such, and after stabilization I was able to regain control of my faculties and eventually go home with a laundry list of new short-term meds, paperwork on recovery and new “do’s and don’ts”
What puzzled me most was what on earth could have caused the reaction. The only other time in my life I’d felt anything like it was when I accidentally ingested the sap of a very toxic plant while caring for it with my bare hands and then eating a granola bar…with my bare hands. Stupid, I know. Already chided myself enough for that.
After reading for hours on end…I was stuck in bed anyway…I read an article that said that about 90% of the allergens in food are located in the protein section and that food, and that foods which are normally labeled “intolerant” become an allergy ranging from mild to life-threatening when eaten in large amounts. Then it occurred to me that a standard serving of black beans only contains 15 grams of protein per 230 calorie serving. So I started to wonder if the beans had been somehow concentrated to increase the protein levels, which is what that article said contained the allergen. I finally decided that this must be why I had such a horrible reaction. I had unintentionally eaten far more than I meant to. I knew I’d be in from some discomfort but NOTHING like what happened.
So, I guess I’m just wondering if my little hypothesis could be true. If its not, then I have absolutely no idea what could have caused it. All I know is, I NEVER want to go through that again. It still hurts and I keep wondering when the symptoms will subside. Pain and weakness piss me off. I’m sure any woman can understand that. Do you have any advice? Ever heard of this before?
Thank you so much for your time.
+1 here for late development of this. Have been eating kidney/cannelini beans for years no issues.
Causes: kidney, pinto, white, cannelini, similar. Doesn’t matter if they’re canned or fresh (soaked/cooked). Not sure about black beans.
What doesn’t cause this: lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, green beans, peas, split peas, or soy beans (endamame).
After eating: dysphagia, histamine response, itchy ear canal, hives, excess mucous. Telfast or Aerius (anti histamines in Australia) help.
GP recommends avoiding.
Same as me, well almost. Ate the all life, then one day. Bam! Cannot eat kidney beans, broad beans, I suspect pine nuts or any other nuts (nuts give me anaphylaxis) but the beans give me what seems like massive hay fever and hives, just as you describe. V. weird. I can eat chickpeas, lentils, green beans, peas, split peas but NOT soya- this give me asthma. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Question for the group – do cannelini beans (which are often called white kidney beans) cause similar issues for people? I am fine with cannelloni beans but not sure if I should avoid cannelini beans since I am reactive to kidney beans.
I reacted for years to pinto beans (what is commonly used for refried beans in New Mexico). I found that even a spoonful was enough to cause stomach cramps, severe bloating and other issues. As I don’t care for the taste or texture, I have avoided similar beans.
This past week, my husband and I started adding several things to our protein shakes in an effort to lose weight. I started having the same symptoms within 5 to 10 minutes of drinking mine. I realized that the symptoms seemed similar to those I had experienced in the past so we did some research. It seems that my culprit is acacia powder.
I don’t react to grean beans or peas or anything else on the list. However, my mother has developed a peanut allergy this past year so I am going to be extremely cautious.
Ruth Holroyd says
Thanks for the comment. Allergies are so complex. Good luck with the protein shakes, minus the acacia. I didn’t even know acacia could be an allergen
I found this article after experiencing my first allergic reaction to food at the weekend. I was at a friends house and they server chilli con carne which of course contained kidney beans. In the past I’ve always pushed them to the side as I don’t like the look of them but not wanting to appear to be rude, on Saturday evening I ate them.
About 10mins later my eyes started to really itch, I developed a choking cough, nose started to run and my chest wheeze. Fortunately we had to leave early anyway but the symptoms lasted about half an hour until I took some piriteze medicine at home. Next morning I cleared my throat and it felt quite raw and there was a taste of blood.
I’m aged 46 and have never had a problem with any other food, so now I’m thinking should I get tested as other symptoms (digestive) I’ve experienced after food, I never put two and two together and thought that maybe I have an allergy to certain legumes?
Ruth Holroyd says
That’s exactly what happens to me with kidney beans. Like the worst hay fever ever but from a food! Totally weird. Avoid them for sure and yes, get tested. Easier said than done but good luck. You may find other beans cause issues too so keep an eye out. I’m pretty bad with broad beans too.
I had an E-95 and A-95 antibody test completed and I was off the charts for all beans, including green beans. However, lentils, chickpeas and peas showed little to no antibody response. Is this a lectin reaction, or an allergy? If lectins can be essentially soaked/cooked off, is there still enough lectin in the beans to cause problems? Would a skin prick test or a food challenge test be beneficial to verify allergies after getting the antibody tests done?
Lois Avci says
Let me put in a good word for favas. They’re a legume but not a true bean and not allergenic for most people. My grandkid was violently allergic to every kind of bean, pea and lentil but could eat favas to his heart’s content,
Green peas, sweet peas, red kidney beans, and soybeans unlike some other legumes are high in histimine. So me people have histamine allergies or Mast cell disorders.
Ruth Holroyd says
Oh really? So it might be histamine? I can tolerate some beans, just struggle with kidney and soya. I can have green peas though… Mast cell disorders, man they are a nightmare. No one wants that.
In the past 2 or 3 years I have developed an allergic reaction to some beans.
I had my first reaction about three years ago to minestrone soup in which my throat and gums had a weird tingling and itching sensation. A few months later I ate a bean burrito with pinto beans and had the same reaction. A few months after that my father made a homemade pot of chili beans which we ate ALL the time growing up. I had an immediate and bad reaction. Symptoms as follows: My entire mouth itches, the insides of my lips swell, my eyes turn red and water, my throat itches, my sinuses become very congested and I experience itching in my under arms similar to a skin reaction to deodorant.
Since I grew up eating all types of beans regularly and had no other food allergies it took me a long time to pinpoint the sensitivity was beans. Especially pinto beans which were a staple growing up in New Mexico. For a couple years I was able to substitute kidney beans but that turned into a mild reaction as well. Until recently black beans were fine but I recently had a horrible reaction to those.
So far other legumes like soy, chickpeas and peanuts don’t bother me at all. I regularly eat tofu, hummus and peanut butter with no issues. I also do fine with pea proteins and peas. This allergy has come about only in the past few years. Kidney and black beans were fine for a while but they have started causing bad reactions as well. I am unsure about others. So far it is just the three – pinto, black and kidney. They didn’t start causing issues until I was in my thirties and were always a dietary staple.
Ruth Holroyd says
It’s so weird isn’t it, this was the same for me too. I ate kidney beans in chilli all my life and broad beans (although I’ve never really liked them) but in my late 30s and early 40s these reactions started to happen. I think it was worse in hay fever season so not sure if there is a connection there. Keep an eye on those legumes. I can’t eat peanuts or soya either but can eat chickpeans, peas, lentils etc. without any issues. Very frustrating! Stay safe an hope you can find substitutes and that your family are accommodating! It’s like full on hay fever for me when I eat the kidney beans. Intense!
Bhajan Lal says
This is very useful article My experience with all legumes was allergic but since I start adding home made yogurt with all beans my allergy to beans vanish completely something is special in yogurt which stops me with heavy scratching on my skin especially on my foot which started coming bleeding from scratching it
Ruth Holroyd says
WOW so the yogurt stops the reaction? How interesting.
Bhajan Lal says
This is very useful article Since I started adding home made yogurt with kidney beans and all kinds of legumes my allergies problems stop Before I got bloody skin itching when I eat kidney beans
Ruth Holroyd says
They really make me so itchy too. They never used to so not sure what’s changed.
Kaz Sissoon says
When I eat red kidney beans the glands in my throat swell up like I have the Mumps. I have never reacted allergically to another legume but recently, at a Mexican restaurant they served me some white-colored beans instead of the usually Pinto beans and I had the same reaction. Could they have been white kidney beans? I’m no afraid to eat any kind of bean for fear of reacting.
Ruth Holroyd says
YES you can get white kidney beans! it could well have been that. I find I also get a reaction to soya beans and some other legumes like broad beans. But not all of them! Just to complicate the situation I can eat lentils and chickpeas and some of other beans like pinto beans. I wonder what the difference is?