If you are allergic to soy, you have probably discovered the hard way that foods containing thiamine mononitrate can cause some pretty severe allergic reactions. To someone who becomes frighteningly ill each time one of these foods is ingested, it’s frustrating that much of the allergy information out there is insisting that thiamine mononitrate is now synthetically produced and that soy exposure from thiamine mononitrate is no longer an issue.
For several months recently the soy allergic people in our family suffered some very unsettling reactions even though we only eat foods that are supposedly completely soy free. Obviously we were eating something on a regular basis that was causing these reactions. I could think of only two possibilities… the flour I was baking with or the whole grain brown rice.
Over the last few weeks I have spent some considerable time on the telephone with representatives from various companies, trying to get some definitive information about thiamine mononitrate… is it made from soy (or corn) or is it now produced synthetically? It was difficult to get any real information because most of the people I talked to just did not have the answers.
Only one company actually made an effort to find out the source of the thiamine mononitrate in their products. This was King Arthur Flour. We have been buying their organic all purpose flour for over a year now because “normal” all purpose flour is always enriched with thiamine mononitrate. We buy the organic flour in fifty-pound bags, and one of the local stores special orders it for us. The price varies, and this flour is expensive, sometimes more than a dollar a pound, but it contains only organic wheat flour and organic malted barley flour… no added enrichments, no thiamine mononitrate.
I called the King Arthur customer service number and asked my questions about thiamine mononitrate… if I could be confident that the organic flour did not contain anything that wasn’t listed on the bag… and could I be confident that it was not cross contaminated by another product (like the regular all purpose flour and other flours) that did list thiamine mononitrate as an ingredient. The customer service person said she would post my questions on their private network so their chemists and other experts could provide accurate information. She said she would call me back with the answers in about a week.
It turns out that the organic flour contains no unlisted ingredients. It is also processed and packaged separately on a dedicated production line, so there is absolutely no possibility of cross contamination.
The chemists said that some thiamine mononitrate IS being produced synthetically, but much of it is still being produced naturally from soy and corn. They said that King Arthur, like other flour companies, has different mills across the country, and each mill has its own sources for the thiamine mononitrate they add to the product. This makes it impossible for any company to know which thiamine mononitrate is in which bags of flour… so the same type of flour might or might not contain thiamine mononitrate that was derived from soy. The chemists strongly urged that anyone with a severe soy allergy should choose only organic flours, because those were the only flours that could be guaranteed not to contain soy in any form.
It was a relief to know for sure about the flour, but that still left the brown rice. We’ve been buying Carolina whole grain brown rice for about the same amount of time we have had unexplained periodic bouts of severe soy reactions. The label lists only brown rice as an ingredient… with no mention of thiamine mononitrate or any added enrichments… but once we had eliminated the flour as a possible source of soy, the only other possibility was the rice. So I made another phone call.
This time I was only able to speak to a customer service representative who assured me that the Carolina whole grain brown rice was not enriched and did not contain any ingredients that were not listed on the label. I told him we were positive that this unenriched, thiamine mononitrate-free rice was the cause of consistent severe allergic reactions and asked if there was any possibility that the rice could be cross contaminated by one of their other products. I wasn’t surprised when the representative admitted that the rice that wasn’t enriched was processed and packaged with the same equipment that processed and packaged the rice that did have the thiamine mononitrate added. He said the thiamine mononitrate came from several sources, so it would not be possible to know if it came from soy. I suggested that if there was even a possibility of an allergen like soy being present in a product, it might be a good idea to list that possible cross contamination on the package. The representative agreed that it “might be something they should think about.”
Our mystery seems to have been solved. If I don’t feed my family the brown rice, no one gets the allergic reactions. I have tried rinsing the rice extra thoroughly before I cook it, but this only seems to help sporadically. Whole grain brown rice has become another problem food.
So… if you are experiencing unexplained soy allergic reactions, consider that the problem might still be thiamine mononitrate. Call the manufacturers… don’t just accept general information that may not apply to your specific situation.