St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching! Are you wondering if your wheat allergy will get in the way?

History of the Holiday

In Ireland, the holiday was created as a way to honor the country’s patron saint and a time to cut loose during the Catholic Lent season. Today, the holiday is honored in myriad of ways around the world to celebrate all things Irish. From preparing classic Irish food to setting leprechaun traps, young and old alike look for the luck o’the Irish on March 17. Many adults may even enjoy a clover green colored beer as they celebrate. While I assumed this was a modern tradition, during my research I discovered that green beer is over a century old!

According to IrishCentral, an Irish American New York City coroner named Dr. Thomas Hayes Curtin gets credit for this discovery. He unveiled his invention of a beer the color of shamrocks at a Bronx social club in 1914. The doctor used “wash blue” in a light ale to liven up the celebration. Unlucky for his family, friends, and colleagues, however, the “wash blue” was also, in fact, poison. This substance is an iron powder solution used to whiten clothes. Thankfully, more than a century later, green beer prevails, and this Irish American’s invention continues. Now a few drops of green food coloring give the beer that glorious emerald hue instead of wash blue.

Wheat Allergy and Beer

I recently was asked whether those with a wheat allergy could partake in the green beer tradition. According to the AAAAI, there are a variety of reasons someone may experience a reaction while consuming beer:

The most frequent causes of reactions to beer are either IgE-mediated reactions to barley/hops or a reaction to the alcohol itself. This alcohol reaction is quite often due to acetaldehyde dehydrogenase 2 deficiency. Acetaldehyde dehydrogenase 2 is the enzyme that metabolizes the first metabolic product of alcohol digestion, acetaldehyde. When acetaldehyde accumulates, it produces mast cell degranulation, and therefore its symptoms mimic an allergic response. Although not as prevalent, there can be reactions to rye, wheat, yeast, or molds. In addition, some beers may contain additives such as sulphites, sodium benzoate, or tartrazine that can cause sensitivities. Some craft beers also contain, fruit and nut extracts or dairy. Any of these ingredients can cause discomfort or reactions in someone with a food allergy or sensitivity to one of them.

If someone has a wheat allergy specifically however, there are several wheat free beers available. You can find a great list with additional insight to ingredients such as oats, brown rice, corn, or sweet potatoes. You may consider hosting a St. Patrick’s Day party at your home, purchasing a wheat free pale beer, and adding as much green food coloring as you wish. If out and about for the holiday, make sure to talk with the brew master about your selection. Better yet, order a beer in a bottle to view the ingredient list yourself!

Amanda Hofmann, MPAS, PA-C, is a graduate of Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, PA. After spending 8 years in clinical practice, she joined United Allergy Services where she is currently the Vice President of Clinical. Amanda is also the past president of the Association of PAs in Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. 

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