Watch out for histamine in food!

Watch out for histamine in food!

I am known: I am not one of those who raise fears to get elected, and I avoid discussing questions of nutrition or toxicology, as I know that gourmets too often do the opposite of what they say be “good for their health”. But I want to talk to you today about a compound – histamine – that can cause poisoning. Because Spanish colleagues have just published an article where they indicate how to take samples from cheeses whose histamine content is to be measured. Above all, like many great cheese lovers, I have long wondered about the maximum dose of cheese that can be consumed without inconvenience: Roquefort, Gruyère, Brie, Camembert…

Histamine is a compound in the category of “biogenic amines”. Its molecule is small: it consists of a pentagonal ring with three carbon atoms and two nitrogen atoms linked to a hydrocarbon tail terminated by an amine group, with one nitrogen atom and two hydrogen atoms. Depending on the receptors it activates, this molecule can cause an immune reaction, a secretion of gastric juice and hydrochloric acid, vasodilation, contraction of the bronchi and muscles, an acceleration of the heart rate… It should therefore not be abuse of !

However, histamine is in food: it comes from L-histidine, an amino acid that forms when proteins are degraded, for example when fish is not kept cool, when game is gamy, when food ingredients are fermented, when cheese is ripened.

Histamine poisoning, or pseudo-food allergy syndrome, results from the consumption of foods containing high amounts of histamine. The main symptoms observed are linked to the vasodilating effect of histamine: facial redness, rash, facial oedema, hot flushes, burning sensation in the throat, itching, tingling of the skin. They are generally accompanied by general signs (headaches, heart palpitations, dizziness), and secondary symptoms of a gastrointestinal nature may appear: nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea. Symptoms appear within minutes and then resolve spontaneously within hours or days.

But we remember that between danger and risk, there is exposure. The European Food Safety Agency indicates in particular that for 90% of cases of histamine poisoning linked to fish, the products involved contained levels greater than 500 milligrams per kilogram, and 850 milligrams per kilogram for cheeses. Note: the tolerable amount is around 100 milligrams of histamine per day for healthy adults. What mass of cheese does this correspond to? This is where the work of Spanish chemists comes into its own: using cheeses aged for more than nine months, they measured histamine in four parts (in the heart, on the edges, at different heights). The differences are considerable, histamine being mainly present in the heart and, more generally, in the most humid and salty parts.

Thus, failing to avoid histamine, we will at least know how to dose it correctly, and adapt our consumption to its quantity in food: on the basis of published data, I calculate a little more than 200 grams of Roquefort (according to its refining), and in any case we will avoid fish that is not fresh!



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