Translated by Hilary Keyes
Japanese Encyclopedia: Soba Allergy
A common dish in Japan, soba, can cause allergic reactions in people who have never tried buckwheat before. But there is a fun way to check if you are allergic before setting foot in a soba shop!
Written by ニコ
Soba is one of Japan's representative foods.
With its rich aroma and pleasant food texture, soba has quickly become a favorite dish of visitors to Japan. At the same time as the deliciousness of this dish is spread overseas, so too must awareness about potential allergic reactions to soba be spread.
Today we will explain the causes and symptoms of soba allergies so that visitors to Japan can safely enjoy their trips.
What is "Soba" in the First Place?
Soba are noodles made from buckwheat flour; the type of buckwheat most commonly found in Japan and Asia being Fagopyrum esculentum. Soba noodles are generally made from a dough that combines buckwheat flour, wheat flour and water, which is then kneaded, cut into thin noodles that are roughly 1-2 mm in thickness and then boiled.
A pale grey-brown in color, these noodles preserve the distinct flavor of buckwheat, which makes them stand out from other types of noodles. The flour ratio in most soba noodles is 8:2 (80% buckwheat, 20% wheat flour), which is known as nihachi soba in Japanese, while all buckwheat noodles are known as towari soba. The type of soba used varies from restaurant to restaurant, with each having their own preferred ratio.
In the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo, Kanda is the city with many soba shops of longstanding. For example, Kanda Matsuya, which opened in 1884 is quite famous.
In short, soba is a dish with many different preparation techniques and ingredients. Mori soba is perhaps its most popular form, where a 'mountain' (mori) of soba noodles is place on a dish and served with a dipping sauce called tsuyu that is made from soy sauce, sugar and dashi. Other than in restaurants, you can also find instant soba and pre-packaged soba sets for sale in most convenience stores and supermarkets.
Dangerous if Unaware! Symptoms of Soba Reactions
Packed with vitamin B2 and plenty of dietary fiber, the proteins contained in soba can cause severe allergic reactions in those who are sensitive to them.
In countries where people are not accustomed to eating soba or buckwheat-based products, awareness of this allergy is rare. A fair comparison would be that soba allergies can be as bad as peanut allergies overseas. As a result, there are some who come to Japan and try soba for the first time, only to feel horribly ill afterwards.
If someone has this allergy, by roughly 10 minutes after eating the soba the inside of their mouth will start to hurt and swell, with the itching spreading to their throat. As more time passes the symptoms will only grow; stomachaches, nausea and diarrhea are common, and in the most extreme cases, anaphylactic shock may set in. If you are eating soba and suddenly start to feel your mouth tingle or the slightest bit of discomfort, you should stop eating, throw up whatever you have already eaten if at all possible and drink as much water as you are able.
Not Just Soba! Other Foods Cause Soba Allergies
It goes without saying that if you are allergic to buckwheat you don't necessarily have to eat soba in order to have an allergic reaction. There are many other foods that use buckwheat flour in some ratio in Japan. One category of foods to watch out for particularly are Japanese sweets, or wagashi. A light cookie known as a soba boro is a buckwheat cookie, or manjū with anko, may be made from a combination of both buckwheat and wheat flour. Items such as these are often sold as souvenirs or found in Japanese sweets alongside green tea in hotels and hot springs.
And more recently, many cafes and restaurants have been serving buckwheat pancakes and galettes, so if you are suffering from this allergy you must be especially careful with your menu choices.
It's a Tattoo?! The Soba Allergy Checker
Luckily, there is a simple test to determine whether or not you are allergic to buckwheat.
That is the Japanese Tattoo Soba Allergy Checker. Soba restaurants in Sapporo, Hokkaido, hoping to aid tourists to safely enjoy this traditional Japanese dish, co-operated in the development of these convenient temporary tattoos.
Designed to look like ukiyo-e, these tattoos are applied to the skin then brushed with the water that soba has been cooked in. After waiting a few moments, those with a buckwheat allergy will find that a portion of the tattoo has turned bright red.
In March of 2016, these tattoos were distributed among a group of tourists in order to test their effectiveness in determining whether the wearer had a soba allergy or not. Not only where they effective, but the simplicity of the test and the brilliance of the design made them very popular!
From now, soba allergy awareness events are being planned and it is hoped that soon these fun and useful tattoos will be available at soba shops all across Japan.