Do Fermented Vegetables Contain Histamine?

by Kaitlynn Fenley
hands mixing and stuffing a jar of ginger beet sauerkraut.

This is one of the most frequently asked questions we get. In this blog, you’ll learn why vegan fermented vegetables do not contain relevant levels of histamine and which types of fermented foods can sometimes contain histamine.

Vegan fermented vegetables do not contain any relevant amount of histamine.

Fermented vegetables that do not contain animal-sourced and/or high protein ingredients do not contain relevant or detectable levels of histamine and are generally safe from biogenic amine concerns.

Also, histamine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It gets a bad rep, but histamine is necessary for human body function. Histidine is an essential amino acid, and histamine is vital to the proper function of the immune system. Average, healthy people have no problem when consuming moderate amounts of histamine in foods. Good gut microorganisms normally degrade histamine in the gut, and the enzyme DAO (Diamine Oxidase) in the gut also degrades histamine.

Histamine Levels in Foods

So for instance, fish sauce averages HIGH histamine levels around 575 mg/kg. According to the FDA, levels of above 200 mg/kg (ppm) have been associated with human illness (histamine poisoning). So the “safe” limit set by the FDA is under 200 mg/kg of histamine.

The ingredients included in fermented vegetables, the fermentation method, the salt concentration, the fermentation temperature, and the amount of time it was fermented for all influence the levels of biogenic amines in fermented foods. With that being said, a lot of fermentation recipes incorporate animal products into things like sauerkraut and kimchi. People even make sauerkraut with whey added, and this can greatly increase the biogenic amine (histamine) levels. The only reason some kimchi contains relevant levels of histamine is that a lot of kimchi recipes include fish paste as an ingredient. Animal ingredients add the amino acid histidine to fermented foods, thus, they can add histamine.

Animal ingredients in fermented vegetables:

Fermented vegetables that contain animal ingredients such as fish paste or whey from dairy will be high in histamine. Fermented dairy yogurt may have histamine, cultured meats, and cheese have histamine, and some cultured soy products may have histamine. This is because the high protein ingredients in the foods contain the amino acid histidine that microbes can convert to histamine using the enzyme histidine decarboxylase. 

Fermented vegetables made with only vegetables, salt, water, and spices cannot physically contain relevant levels of histamine… this is because the precursor amino acid histidine is not present in relevant amounts in the ingredients, so there’s little to no histidine for microbial enzymes to decarboxylate into histamine. Also, the Lactobacillus spp. in fermented vegetables are able to break down any histamine created with more enzymes.

Microbes in Fermented Vegetables Break Down Histamine

Certain species of Lactobacillus found in fermented vegetables are also capable of breaking down histamine. These species of Lactobacillus can reduce the overall biogenic amine content in all types of fermented vegetables. This is why it is important to ferment your vegetables for a long enough time (21-28 days usually; some vegetables are good at 14 days).

Are any vegetables high in histamine?

Very few vegetables contain relevant levels of histamine, and any relevant levels are usually a result of spoilage microorganisms. (This does not apply to beans, legumes, and starchy vegetables which have varying amino acid content).

People with diagnosed histamine intolerance

Certain types of green leafy vegetables are high in other biogenic amines like putrescine, cadaverine, and tyramine. These biogenic amines are competing substrates for an enzyme called DAO. DAO breaks down histamine in the human body.

Most people who have a histamine intolerance have inadequate DAO, so eating foods with competing substrates is not the best idea. For this reason, people on low histamine diets are told to avoid spinach, kale, eggplant, tomatoes, and avocado.

In general people with histamine intolerance should avoid old, aged, and preserved foods in which the ingredients were high in the amino acid histidine. This includes canned fish, aged meats, cured meats, canned beans, smoked fish, and high protein leftovers.

It should be noted that histamine intolerance can be reversed by reestablishing a healthy gut microbiome.

Obviously, if you have a diagnosed histamine intolerance, follow any recommendations provided by your doctor.


References

Frias, Juana & Martinez-Villaluenga, Cristina & Peñas, Elena. (2016). Fermented Foods in Health and Disease Prevention.

Biogenic Amines in Plant-Origin Foods: Are they Frequently Underestimated in Low-Histamine Diets?

Biogenic amine and fermentation metabolite production assessments of Lactobacillus plantarum isolates for naturally fermented pickles

Histamine and Other Biogenic Amines in Food. From Scombroid Poisoning to Histamine Intolerance

Reduced biogenic amine contents in sauerkraut via addition of selected lactic acid bacteria

Biogenic amines in foods

Changes in biogenic amine concentrations during sauerkraut storage

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11 comments

Vanessa January 26, 2021 - 1:47 pm

Are vegetable ferments the only low histamine option, or is water kefir low as well? What about kombucha? Thanks!

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley January 26, 2021 - 5:22 pm

I’ve never tested them for histamine levels, but my guess would be that water kefir and kombucha are also low… since tea and sugar water don’t have a lot of the amino acid histidine.

Reply
Renee M Martel March 14, 2021 - 11:56 am

If I eat a lot of animal fat and protein and I have healthy gut, than I will experience histamine issues?

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley March 18, 2021 - 8:22 am

No, not necessarily. Histamine intolerance is normally caused by insufficient DAO, which is oftentimes related to poor gut health. I do not provide medical advice, as I am not a physician. So if you have concerns about histamine issues and your diet, you should see a medical professional.

Reply
Bas June 13, 2021 - 9:06 am

I’ve read this post with great interest, as I’ve wanted to eat fermented foods for a looooong time, but have some histamine issues. Read any list of foods to avoid on a low histamine diet, and fermented foods will be in there… But indeed, maybe not ALL fermented foods? I can’t wait to try fermented vegetables again!

I have 2 questions:
– Vegetables themselves contain no histamine… But could histamine be created during the fermentation process? (The last source you provided states that histamine was “virtually below detection limits”, which seems to show the contrary!)
– Certain strains of lactobacillus have been shown to break down histamine. Are these common strains? (i.e. will I have them in my ferments?) Is there a way to favor these strains?

Thank you for this great post and website!

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley June 13, 2021 - 9:48 am

If you read the blog post, I discuss that microorganisms in fermented foods cannot just “create” histamine. The vegetables and ingredients in the fermented food would have to contain the starting amino acid histidine. Microbes need histidine to make histamine.

so the last source I provided states that histamine, tryptamine, and spermine were virtually below detection limits… that’s because there’s basically no histidine in cabbage for the microbes to turn into histamine. Some sauerkrauts are produced with dairy whey added, so some sauerkraut samples contain histamine.

The best way to favor the strains of Lactobacillus through wild fermentation is to use the proper salt concentration and to ferment vegetables for at least 21 days.

Glad you enjoyed the post!

Reply
Bas June 14, 2021 - 2:45 am

Great! Thank you for the reply!

Reply
John September 14, 2021 - 6:31 am

Hi Kaitlynn!
You know, I am such a huge fan of fermented food, especially when I come across your unique fermentation website!
I have a question:
Is it possible that consuming even high-quality fermented vegetables (2,5% salt for at least 14 days etc) and at the same time have a high protein diet (I am also a high meat-eater) can cause histamine issue though?
If the answer is yes, because I love fermentation so much, I am so much willing to change for the better!!

Much Love!

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley September 15, 2021 - 10:02 am

I do not give individualized dietary recommendations or medical advice. Consuming fermented foods and a high animal protein diet is only an issue for people with diagnosed insufficient DAO (histamine intolerance). For general overall gut health, a plant-forward diet is best.

Reply
Ross November 21, 2021 - 5:49 pm

Hi Kaitlynn,
I understand that plant-based ferments themselves may not contain histamine and that “certain species of Lactobacillus found in fermented vegetables are also capable of breaking down histamine”, but aren’t the other Lactobacillus species and various probiotics commonly produced through fermentation high histamine ‘producers’? Possibly the point of the blog was just to clarify that the ferment itself contains no histamine but it also makes it sound like fermented vegetables are safe for those with mast cell activation or histamine issues while animal products are the problem… Sorry, I don’t mean to be a pain. You have a wonderful site, just seeking to clarify 🙂

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley November 21, 2021 - 6:13 pm

Yes, the microbes in fermented foods can produce histamine, but only if the precursor amino acid histidine is present. Most vegetables do not contain any of the amino acid histidine. Lactobacillus cannot just magically create histamine from thin air… They can only produce histamine through enzymatic action, using the enzyme histidine decarboxylase to convert the amino acid histidine into histamine.

If there’s no amino acid histidine in the food being fermented, then the microbes cannot make histamine.

This blog is clearly stating that fermented foods containing histamine is dependent on the amino acid content of the ingredients used in making the fermented food.

There is nothing in this blog post that states that fermented foods are inherently safe for people with diagnosed insufficient DAO or histamine intolerance, read the last paragraph, please.

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