Peanut allergy in France: Safely finding peanut-free options abroad

Mike has a severe peanut allergy, which can honestly be a huge pain in the butt when it comes to eating out. Before we left on our trip to France, we did a bit of googling and found out that although peanuts aren’t used too commonly in French cooking and baking, they do use peanut oil in everything from pizza dough to salad dressings. Eeeek! I knew that peanut butter wasn’t really eaten there, so I’d mistakenly assumed that it would be easier to find peanut-free options there, rather than harder! Boy, was I wrong. Peanuts and peanut oil are everywhere!

While evidence shows that the refining process removes the allergens from peanut oil, we weren’t taking any chances while we were on vacation and didn’t want to eat anywhere that wasn’t absolutely certain that their products were peanut-free. And it was really tough! Compared to North America, it seemed like peanuts were everywhere. I know Mike ended up eating way more burgers and pizza than he’d ever hoped to on a French vacation due to his peanut allergy.

Fortunately, despite the peanut allergy, we did manage to make it safely through our vacation and we were able to track down all the French specialties that Mike had his heart set on trying. So much of French culture centers around food, so I’m so glad we were able to find peanut-free options (croissants, French onion soup, socca and all).

peanut allergy france

I compiled the following tips to help anyone else who might be facing the same challenges.

What to know about peanut allergy in France?

Peanuts everywhere. Nearly every bar will have bowls of peanuts. You’ll see bowls of peanuts at cafés, too. Even if you’re just going for a drink, inform the staff of the peanut allergy to ensure there’s no cross-contamination. If you or your child are very sensitive then you’ll need to be extra careful. We ate at a restaurant where the chef assured us that the kitchen was entirely peanut-free, but sure enough, when I walked past the bar I saw heaping bowls of peanuts. Even if you don’t think a dish would contain peanuts, ask! Sauces are thickened with peanut butter and dressings might be made with peanut oil.

Less awareness. In France, there is so much less awareness regarding peanut allergies. When we go to restaurants here in Toronto, servers are almost always able to immediately tell us whether or not their restaurants use peanuts, even though they’ll rarely make a 100% peanut-free guarantee. In France, when we informed them of Mike’s peanut allergy, only a couple front of house staff had the answer, and sometimes even the cooks didn’t know! A couple explained that they receive their oil is huge vats and they can’t be sure what’s in it. A whole bunch of times we encountered hosts and servers that preferred to just tell us that we probably shouldn’t eat there without even checking with the kitchen. That was pretty frustrating when we’d already struck out at a few restaurants already, but we felt it was much better to be safe than sorry.

Parisian waitstaff are grumpy. Restaurant servers are notoriously grumpy in Paris, but don’t let it phase you. Don’t take it personally, and don’t let it discourage you from emphasizing the seriousness of the peanut allergy.

In case of emergency. Make sure you know the local emergency numbers. For emergency numbers in France, click HERE.


What to say?

Make sure you emphasize the severity of the peanut allergy and make sure you clearly communicate that it’s a matter of life and death, not just a food preference. Clarify that it’s important that not just the particular meal be peanut-free, but that no peanuts are used in the kitchen at all. We were told at least once that there were no peanuts before being told, “Ah, yes, actually we use peanut oil for the fries!”

Je suis très allergique aux arachides/cacahuètes – I am very allergic to peanuts

J’ai une allergie analphylactique aux arachides/cacahuètes – I have an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts

Je suis gravement allergique aux cacahuètes et à l’huile d’arachide – I am seriously allergic to peanuts and peanut oil

Important note: Do not just ask if the food contains noix. This word for nut is used to refer specifically to walnuts, and misleadingly doesn’t encompass all nuts.

What to do?

Even in the most touristy, English-speaking places we visited, hardly anyone understood the word ‘peanut’, so make sure you know all the different terms used to refer to peanuts and peanut oils. Don’t assume that what is safe at home is safe abroad.

Be prepared. If you have a severe peanut allergy, always have an Epipen and make sure it’s labelled and carry a prescription for airline screeners. Make sure your travel companions know how to use it.

Write it out. Unfortunately the French don’t make it easy, and there are a few different words that are used to refer to peanuts. We made sure to use them all. Mike doesn’t speak very much French, but he memorized a few key phrases and carried them around written on a paper card to be sure. If you’re unsure of your pronunciation or if the restaurant staff seem even the least bit unsure, show them your card.

Check labels. Allergens are pretty well labeled on packaged goods, so we bought a lot of our food at grocery stores. We stayed in apartments with kitchens, so we were able to prepare our own food, which saved us money and grief. We always tried to have some peanut-free snacks on hand, so that when it took us ages to find a peanut-free restaurant, Mike wasn’t left completely ravenous.

On labels, look for:

Cacahuètes – peanuts (most commonly used in France)

Arachides – peanuts (most commonly used in Quebec, but also used in France)

Huile d’arachides – peanut oil

Beurre de cacahuètes/arachides – peanut butter

Fruit à coque – translated as “fruits in shells”, this term is used as a catch-all for nuts, and is used on lots of labels

Watch out. if peanuts are an ingredient in a product, they won’t necessarily be included in the list of “may contain” ingredients, so read everything carefully!

Clarify. Even if the host told us we were ok, we also made sure to ask the server, and also asked them to double-check with the kitchen. We emphasized the severity of the peanut allergy, and told them he would DIE. Honestly, it was a hassle and Mike hated the fuss, but I reminded him that it was way less fuss than a trip to the ER.

Where to go?

In both Nice and Paris, I tried searching online for peanut-free restaurants and bakeries, and didn’t find anything at all. So here’s a list of a few of the spots we found that were able to assure us that they didn’t use any peanuts or peanut oils. If you’re looking for peanut-free food while in France, check these places out as a starting point, but please, please make sure to always ask because things might have changed. I need to track down the names of some other restaurants we ate at, so I’ll update this list.

Nice: La Claire Fontaine (lunch/dinner), Boulangerie de L’Olivier (bakery)

Eze: Le Pinocchio (lunch/dinner)

Vence: Brasselie la Victoire (no peanuts in the kitchen, but served at the bar) (lunch/dinner)

Paris: Arena Cafe (breakfast/lunch/dinner), Hippopotamus (lunch/dinner), Poilâne (bakery), Cafe Pinson (breakfast/lunch/dinner – organic/veg/raw)

french cheese


Ooh la la! Top Five in France

Nice - French Riviera 2014

I’ve been away from the blog for a while because I’ve been super busy. Super busy lying on the beach in Nice (swimming in October, even!), busy eating bread and cheese at every meal, and busy walking for hours on end through winding streets and medieval towns, up hills and down mountains, through castles and into shops, and all over the beautiful south of France and up into Paris.

We spent the first half of the trip visiting with my family in Nice, and capped the trip off with a few days in Paris. It was Mike’s first time to France, so we crammed in as much as possible and had an amazing, though completely exhausting time.

While every day was wonderful, fun and pretty much perfect in every way, in this post I’m going to re-cap my Top Five in France. While I’m sure I’ll be sharing more about our trip over the coming days, these 5 are among my favourite memories.

Ooh la la sweater | Old Navy | Paris, France

1) Spending time with family. It was wonderful to visit with my dad and sister, Rebecca, who live in Nice. With my dad, Mike and I enjoyed visiting the huge, weekly antiques market, touring the beautiful town of Vence and eating many meals and sipping on numerous espressos. I wish I could see them more often, but it does give me a great excuse for the occasional visit to the glorious French Riviera. While I unfortunately didn’t get to see them during this visit, my aunt and uncle generously allowed Mike and me to stay in their beautiful apartment just steps from the Promenade des Anglais.

France coffee and chocolate croissant

2) Warm days on the French Riviera. Already dreading the onslaught of another hideously cold winter in Toronto, it was wonderful to slip away to Nice, where I was able to put aside my jackets and scarves, and slip back into my summer dresses and sandals. I even went for a quick dip, which I never, ever do, unless it’s really, really hot. We spent countless hours people watching in the cobblestone streets of Vieux Nice, being dazzled by the sights, sounds and Lamborghinis of Monte Carlo, and living like a local by going for morning jogs and late, late night dinners. We enjoyed the local specialties and maybe a croissant or two or three, and, of course, more than a few glasses of wine. Between the palm trees and the food and the history and the culture, Nice is nice, as the tacky souvenir t-shirts say.

Nice, France - October 2014

3) Creating my signature fragrance. France is, of course, famous for it’s perfumeries. So I signed Mike and myself up for a perfume-making workshop that was held at the Fragonard factory in the adorable hilltop town of Eze. The class started off with a really fun and interesting introduction to the science and smells of perfume making. Then we were able to mix up our own signature scents and I ended up with a pretty, light and citrusy eau de cologne, which will remind me of this trip every time I wear it.

Fragonard - make your own perfume

4) Cooking in Paris! I surprised Mike with a cooking class on our first night in Paris. The class was led by the loveliest French chef, and was full of an eclectic group of other English-speaking travelers. One man was taking his 13th cooking class in 13 days, and another was a language teacher who spoke 28 languages (only 20 fluently, as he clarified). We cooked up a delicious 3 course meal and then sat down to enjoy it along with plenty of wine and good conversation.

5) By far, the biggest highlight of our trip was getting ENGAGED IN PARIS! After enjoying a cute little picnic along the Seine, Mike suspiciously insisted on leading me a block away, through a construction zone, with the promise of a really great view of the Eiffel Tower. I was wondering what the heck he was up to because he was glancing around furtively and clearly not hearing a word I was saying. And then it happened! Mike got down on one knee and proposed to me in the most nervous and rambling, yet beautifully romantic way on a quiet bridge near the Eiffel Tower. I couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect moment and Mike thoughtfully had a photographer hiding in the shadows, ready to capture the proposal. We’re so happy and excited!

Eiffel Tower Proposal Paris in Fall Engagement