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Dealing with food allergies in Italy


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Dealing with food allergies in Italy

AWG | Aug 8, 2010 10:28 AM

We will be travelling to Italy for the first time next month. Florence, Venazza in 5Terre and Lucca

Our problem: My wife has developed an allergy to soy and all soy products. It is quite a challenge when traveling and dining out here in the US, but even more so when the language barrier adds to the problem. You would think soy is easy to avoid but it is found almost everywhere. She is allergic to soybean oil, so anything fried or deep fried is off limits as most “vegetable” oil contains soy. That is easy to avoid. It is also relatively easy to avoid “processed” foods that almost always contain something soy. She is also allergic to soy lecithin. Lecithin is found in almost all commercial breads and unfortunately in almost all chocolates. If the bread is “homemade”, it is usually not a problem (you would never add lecithin to your own bread, right?). But even if something contains just breadcrumbs, we have to interrogate to identify the source of the breadcrumbs.

So when dining out we have to interrogate the server, or hopefully the chef, about what oils are used in the kitchen to avoid a problem. We usually seek small chef owned or chef run restaurants anyway, so if we can communicate directly with the chef, we can feel confident that all is safe if they tell us they only use olive oil or butter and not any “Veg” oil or margarine or shortening.

We expect that in Italy everyone would use only olive oil (other than for deep frying which requires oil with a higher smoke point) so we expect to have few problems finding restaurant food that she can eat. Is that a safe assumption?

The only thing my wife loves more than dark chocolate, that she has now been forced to give up, is dark chocolate gelato. Many gelato recipes use cocoa which is pure and safe and soy free. Many other recipes us actual chocolate, bars or chunks, that is melted down. Almost all chocolate contains soy lecithin that is used as an emulsifier for smoothness.

So, after this painfully long introductory saga, here is my question. Does anyone know if Italian gelato is usually made with pure cocoa or is it made with chocolate?

Do they ever use thickeners or gums that are also often soy based?

Also, When it comes to pizza dough or focaccio bread, is it common to use anything other than olive oil? Does anyone know if lecithin is as widely used in bread in Italy as it is here in US?

Thanks for any help on this or any general advice or experiences in dealing with food allergies in Italy.

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