Peanut & Legume Allergy in Turkey

Legumes (Leguminosae) are plants that bear bean pods which, when ripe, split on both sides, revealing seeds that are attacked to one side only. These include green peaschickpeas (garbanzo beans), lentilssoybeans (soya beans) and peanuts (yer fıstığı).

Legumes are not tree nuts.

Legumes are very common in Turkish cuisine. Indeed, one might say they are part of its foundation.

Peanuts (Yer fıstığı)

Peanuts (yer fıstığı, YEHR fuss-tuh-uh) are not actually nuts, they’re legumes, pulses, eaten mostly as a snack food in Turkey, visually identifiable, though traces may be present in processed foods.

Travelers allergic to peanuts do not usually have too difficult a time in Turkey because peanut is not a common ingredient in Turkish cuisine. (But here’s a first-hand account of a bad incident.)

Peanut oil is not as common as olive, sunflower and safflower oil.

Note that the Turkish word fıstık (fuhss-TUHK) identifies two different “nuts”: yer fıstığı (peanuts) and Şam fıstığı(pistachios). Peanuts are a legume, pistachios are a tree nut. (Here’s more on tree nut allergy.)

Green Peas (Bezelye)

Green peas (bezelye, beh-ZEHL-yeh) are used in stews and in a few meze (appetizers, hors d’oeuvres) such as Rus salatası (Russian salad, also called American salad, made with mayonnaise). They are usually visually identifiable, as in bezelyeli kebap, lamb stew with green peas, potatoes and carrots.

Chickpeas, Garbanzos (Nohut)

Chickpeas (nohut, noh-HOOT) are very popular as leblebi(roasted chickpeas, eaten as a snack or çerez, “nibbles” eaten while drinking rakı or other alcoholic beverages. They are also used in stews such as Etli Nohut, made with lamb, onions and chickpeas. Chickpeas are often visually identifiable, except in humus, a chickpea purée made with sesame seed paste, olive oil and garlic.

Lentils (Mercimek)

Lentils are also a staple of the Turkish diet, most commonly seen in the ubiquitous Mercimek Çorbası (soup made green or red lentils and mutton stock), but also in other dishes such as Mercimek Köftesi, a vegetarian or vegan version of Turkey’s famous grilled lamb meatballs.

Soybeans, Soya Beans (Soya fasulyesi)

As in other countries, soy lecithin is used in Turkey as an emulsifier in many manufactured food products. Most processed foods bear ingredients labels, and soya lesitini is usually readily identifiable on the label.

Soy oil is not as common as olive, sunflower and safflower oils in Turkish cuisine.

Of course, soy and soy sauce may be much more commonly used in Asian restaurants in Turkey, but there are few of these.

Phrases

Is there [legume name] in it? = İçinde [legume name] var mı? (EECH-een-DEH [legume name] VAHR muh)

Yes = evet (eh-VEHT)

No = hayır/yok (‘higher,’ YOHK)

I’m allergic to [legume name]= [legume name] alerjim var. ([legume name] ah-lehr-ZHEEM vahr)

I cannot eat any [legume name] = Hiç [legume name] yeyemem. (HEECH [legume name] yeh-EYH-mehm)

Most processed food packages in Turkey contain lists of ingredients, often in several languages, but you may want to have a Turkish speaker help to interpret the ingredients list.

—by Tom Brosnahan


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