coco, hazel & ella – what NUTty gals

There are two sweet nuts that have led to a lot of confusion in the nut world: coconut and hazelnut, the latter of which is a main ingredient in Nutella(R). I get a lot of questions about whether or not I can eat coconut, but I never face mini-interrogations when in the same vicinity as hazelnuts — or more specifically Nutella.

Coconut, as defined by the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, is actually a fruit, rather than a nut. In the past ten years, there has be a ton of hype around the FDA’s classification of coconut as a tree nut. By literal form, yes: a coconut is a seed that grows from a tree, but I tend to side with the fact that it should be taken off the do-not-eat list for people with nut allergies. People with coconut allergies are actually (typically) allergic to the meat of the fruit, so this has nothing to do with nuts or nut allergies. Coconut has never caused an allergic reaction for me or anyone I know; in fact, most people who have peanut and tree nut allergies are able to eat coconut.

Seemingly as delicious as coconut, Nutella is another “nut” that comes in spread form or even as an ice cream flavor. Whenever around Nutella, I wonder why no one asks me if it will cause a reaction. In camp, my friend used to eat Nutella by the tub and I was so disappointed that I could never try it. In high school, my friend fed me a spoon of Nutella gelato, which led to nausea, an itchy mouth, and lots of attitude from my end as I was baffled over why she did not realize this would cause a problem. To avoid such childhood sadness and anger, I presume, Nutella’s manufacturer (Ferrero) removed peanut oils and all hydrogenated oils from all of its products, so Nutella is now free of peanuts! However, the products main ingredient is still hazelnut.

While Nutella is off-limits, I love to drink hazelnut-flavored coffee. Whether it’s hot from a nearby bodega or chilled from the local Starbucks, hazelnut is a common, delicious flavor of coffee. Questioning how it was possible that I could consume any form of hazelnut, I turned to Google search. One professional at Starbucks admitted that its drinks made with hazelnut syrup do not contain the hazelnut antigen; the syrup basically only contains sugar, water, and natural and artificial flavors. Ultimately, I gathered that most hazelnut drinks would not cause a problem for people with allergies similar to mine, but if you’re questioning a product then you should ask. Always ask, even to the point of offending others. Just because a nut has a cute name does not mean it will be safe to consume. It’s not worth it to enjoy the taste of something for a few seconds with the follow-up of mouth discomfort, stomach pains, or worse.