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Hidden Mold: The Invisible Histamine and Mast Cell Trigger in Your Food

You’ve likely opened a package of cheese or a jar of pasta sauce that’s been sitting in the fridge for a while to discover mold over the surface.

Mold on the surface of food is visible, but it’s possible to have hidden molds in foods that are invisible to the naked eye.

Mold is a common issue that often lurks in various foods, unseen and unnoticed. For individuals with mast cell activation, this hidden troublemaker can trigger mast cell degranulation, leading to the release of chemical mediators like histamine. This can exacerbate histamine and mast cell-mediated symptoms, contributing to a range of health issues, including symptoms like fatigue, persistent headaches, pain, weakness, sleep problems, brain fog, mood changes, digestive issues, and respiratory problems such as asthma.

In this article, we'll explore some unsuspecting foods that may harbour hidden mold and strategies to manage its impact on histamine issues and mast cell activation.

The Mast Cell Connection

Mast cells are a crucial part of the immune system, playing a pivotal role in defending the body against pathogens. Mold produces mycotoxins which can act as pathogens in humans.

In some people mold or mycotoxins may trigger an allergic response, while in others they may trigger mast cell activation. Both responses involve mast cells but involve different cellular pathways and can result in the release of different chemicals.

If mast cells are sensitized, they can become hyper-responsive, releasing excessive amounts of chemical mediators, particularly histamine. Mycotoxins can activate mast cells, contributing to the manifestation of various symptoms.

Hidden Mold in Everyday Foods

1. Coffee:

Coffee beans are susceptible to mold growth and mycotoxin contamination during processing and storage (1).

Opt for high-quality, organic, freshly ground coffee beans and store them in a cool, dry place or in the freezer. Good options include brands that are certified to be low in mycotoxins. You can also explore small, local roasteries.

2. Grapes:

Grapes and grape products such as juice or wine, can be prone to mold due to contamination while still in the vineyard (2) .

Inspect grapes thoroughly for any signs of mold before consuming and consider choosing organic options to reduce pesticide exposure.

We exclude grapes from our Stage 1 food list for this very reason—there are many other fruit options to choose from.

3. Grains:

Bread, pastries, pasta, corn, and other grain-based products can harbour mold due to poor moisture and temperature control during grain storage after harvest (3).

Replace grains with healthy carbohydrate and starches like root vegetables and fruit from our Histamine Haven food list. Animals are often fed grains, so choosing grass-fed animals such as beef and lamb are good choices to stay clear from mycotoxins.

4. Legumes:

Legumes are susceptible to aflatoxin-producing molds (4, 5, 16). Legume is a broad category that includes beans (soy, kidney, navy, pinto, black etc.) lentils, alfalfa, and peanuts.

Consider choosing alternative protein sources if mold is a concern.

Here at Histamine Haven, we opt for animal protein sources for a variety of reasons—mold is just one more to add to the list.

5. Coconut:

Coconut, in various forms, can develop mold (6).

Ensure you buy fresh coconut or source products from small producers. It is in the drying process in large commercial production that mold can propagate.

Other products made from dried coconut such as oil, desiccated coconut or coconut butter may also be sources of mold.

6. Nuts & Seeds:

Nuts and seeds can be prone to mold contamination in the field, and the quantity can increase especially when stored in damp conditions (7).

Choose fresh crops nuts that have been recently harvested and store them in the freezer. If nuts or seeds have any discoloration or unusual odour, they should be discarded.

7. Teas:

Both herbal (8) and traditional teas (9) can be contaminated with mold. Choose high-quality, organic teas, and store them in a cool, dry place.

8. Dried Foods:

Dried fruits are yet another food item that can harbour mold (10).

Choosing fresh is a better choice, or try freeze-dried fruit if you need something lightweight for activities like hiking, skiing, or camping. Freeze-dried apples, blueberries, mangosteen or mangos are great low histamine options.

9. Cheese:

Moldy cheeses like Gorgonzola or Camembert are an obvious source of mold, but even hard cheeses can contain trace amounts (11).

Choose fresh cheeses like soft, creamy goat cheese or buffalo mozzarella that are also low histamine.

10. Fermented and Cultured Foods:

While fermentation can be a beneficial process, mold contamination is possible in foods such as fermented soy (12), or other ferments (13).

Purchase fermented foods from reputable sources. Keep in mind that ferments are high in histamine and may not be appropriate for you.

11. Cocoa:

Commonly found in chocolate products, cocoa can become contaminated throughout processing (14).

Opt for cocoa (or cacao) butter instead (15) -- not only is it low in mycotoxins, but it’s also low in histamine.

Strategies for Managing Mold Sensitivity

1. Choose Fresh and High-Quality Foods:

As we always like to say, “Fresh is Best”. Next to freshness, quality also impacts mycotoxin content.

2. Proper Storage:

Store foods in airtight containers in a cool, dry place to inhibit mold growth. Our favourite place is the freezer—it’s the only place to also inhibit histamine formation.

4. Consider Replacement Alternatives:

Explore replacements to common mold-prone foods to minimize exposure and support a mast cell-friendly diet. Consciously choosing coffee that has been certified to have low mycotoxin content, swapping grains out for veg and fruit based carbs, or choosing fresh cheeses are some of the examples we’ve discussed in this article.

5. Consult with a Healthcare Professional:

If you suspect mold sensitivity is contributing to your symptoms, consult with a healthcare professional who is familiar with histamine and mast cell health issues for possible testing. We also have some great content in our Mold Master Class. You can register for this stand-alone class here. (It will be a part of our Histamine Haven Online Community as well, launching Summer 2024!)

Shedding Light on Hidden Molds

The invisibility of molds and mycotoxins can make it hard to identify mold in foods as a possible trigger. Additionally, many of the symptoms associated with mold are also invisible, making it hard for your medical team to identify the problem.

Being mindful of hidden mold in everyday foods is crucial, especially for individuals with mast cell activation. By making informed choices, implementing proper storage practices, and considering alternative food options, individuals can better manage mold sensitivity and reduce the risk of mast cell activation, thereby shedding light on this possible trigger, and improving overall well-being.

Need help figuring out what your triggers are? Read, “Help! How Do I Know What My Triggers Are?”.

Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance tailored to your specific health needs.


Ready to get started on getting to the root of your histamine or mast cell mediated symptoms? Consider joining us at our next The Histamine Connection class. It's a free class we host online every month or so, and it's the perfect place to start.

In the class, we'll help you make that histamine connection for yourself, and get you started on solutions to reduce what's driving your symptoms. Register for the next class by visiting this page.  Let's get you feeling better!

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