Have you been diagnosed with a shellfish allergy? Does your diagnosis leave you wondering what, if any, seafood and shellfish you can eat?
You are not alone. Shellfish allergies are not one and the same. There are actually two distinct shellfish allergies: crustacean and mollusk. If you do not know the difference, you are left either eating things that can make you sick, or avoiding seafood that you can safely eat.
If your doctor diagnoses you with a crustacean shellfish allergy, you are allergic to some of the most commonly used seafood ingredients.
Scientists have identified over 52,000 species of crustacean shellfish, but you need not concern yourself with learning them all. The crustacean classification encompasses three primary culinary shellfish: crab (Dungeness, Alaskan King, Snow, and Blue), lobster (Maine, South African, and New Zealand), and shrimp (White, Pink, and Brown).
Wild-caught and farm-raised crustacean shellfish will both trigger your food allergy. Crab and lobster dishes nearly always disclose the use of crustacean shellfish in the ingredients--think crab dip, crab cakes, lobster bisque, and lobster thermidor--but shrimp dishes are more subtle. For example, regional dishes, like Mexico's cahuamanta or the Philippines' bagoong alamang, often incorporate shrimp as a secondary ingredient that is not always apparent from menu descriptions.
While not always available in restaurants, imitation crab, lobster, and shrimp are available for you to use as a crustacean shellfish replacement for home recipes. Make sure that you read the ingredients, however, as these imitation fish products, which are also known as surimi, often use real fish ingredients, some of which may be crustacean shellfish.
Mollusks make up the second group of shellfish. If you have an allergy to mollusk shellfish, you must avoid mussels, oysters, clams, and scallops.
Mollusks have graced the earth for millions of years. From a culinary perspective, mollusks are found in common dishes and the rarest, most ethnic cuisines. You are probably familiar with oysters on the half shell, seared scallops, clam chowder, and steamed white wine mussels, but many dishes incorporate some of the strangest mollusks known to man.
For example, the much-loved Italian dish known as calamari consists of fried squid or octopus. Many sushi rolls are prepared with a variety of mollusks, including squid and octopus.
Unlike crustacean shellfish, mollusk shellfish are harder to imitate. Many popular pasta and sushi dishes that contain mollusks can be substituted with non-mollusk ingredients, like salmon or tuna. For assistance in choosing allergen-free dishes at a restaurant like Athens Restaurant, be sure to ask your server what is in each dish.