I’m known: I’m not one to raise their concerns in order to get elected, and I avoid discussing questions of nutrition or toxicology, because I know that gourmets often do the opposite of what they say is “good for their health.” But today I want to talk to you about a compound – histamine – that can cause poisoning. Because Spanish colleagues have just published an article in which they indicate how to take samples of cheese whose histamine content should be measured. Above all, like many great cheese lovers, I have always wondered what is the maximum dose of cheese that can be eaten without any discomfort: Roquefort, Gruyère, Brie, Camembert…
Histamine is a compound in the “vital amines” class. Its molecule is small: it consists of a pentagonal ring with three carbon atoms and two nitrogen atoms attached to a hydrocarbon tail ending in an amine group, with one nitrogen atom and two hydrogen atoms. Depending on the receptors it activates, this molecule can cause an immune response, secretion of gastric juice and hydrochloric acid, vasodilation, contraction of bronchi and muscles, acceleration of heart rate … so it should not be abused!
However, histamine is present in food: it comes from L-histidine, an amino acid that is formed when proteins are broken down, for example when fish is not kept cold, when game is murky, when food ingredients are fermented, or when they are cooked. Cheese.
Histamine poisoning, or pseudo-food allergy syndrome, results from eating foods that contain high amounts of histamine. The main symptoms observed are related to the vasodilating effect of histamine: facial flushing, rash, facial edema, hot flashes, burning sensation in the throat, itching, and tingling of the skin. They are usually accompanied by general signs (headache, heart palpitations, dizziness), and secondary symptoms of a gastrointestinal nature may appear: nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea. Symptoms appear within minutes and then spontaneously disappear within hours or days.
But we remember that between danger and risk, there is exposure. In particular, the European Food Safety Agency notes that for 90% of cases of histamine poisoning associated with fish, the products involved contained levels in excess of 500 milligrams per kilogram, and 850 milligrams per kilogram for cheese. Note: The tolerable amount is about 100 milligrams of histamine per day for healthy adults. What mass of cheese does this correspond to? This is where the work of the Spanish chemists comes into its own: using cheese ripened for more than nine months, they measured histamine in four parts (at the core, at the edges, at different heights). The differences are great, since histamine is mainly found in the heart and generally in the wetter and savory parts.
Thus, in the event that histamine is not avoided, we will at least know how to take it correctly, adapting our consumption to its quantity in food: based on published data, I count a little more than 200 grams of Roquefort (according to its refinement), and in any case we will avoid fish that is not fresh !