Is Feta High in Histamine?

Histamine Intolerance is a rare medical condition occurs in about 1 percent of the population, and 80% are middle-aged.

With that, it’s often mistaken as the common allergy (see 5 reasons of cheese allergy here).

Here I have a bad news for all of you cheese lovers, most of the aged hard cheeses such as parmesan or cheddar are contaning a high amount of histamine.

For people with histamine intolerance, it’s better to avoid eating fermented, reheated or canned food as it leads to building up of histamine in the body.

Feta cheese has an average aging period of 3-6 months, so it’s no surprise that histamine is present.

To be exact, It is 49.9 mg of histamine in per kg of Feta cheese (3). The acceptable food histamine level should be below 200 mg/kg (4). Although feta fell within the range, it’s good enough to show some early symptoms to people who sensitive to histamine.

Other than that, semi-soft cheese like blue cheese, gouda, and Swiss cheese were found to contain a good amount of histamine.

So, it’s advised to maintain a minimum intake, or avoid at all. In comparison, the unripened or freshly eaten cheeses, such as mozzarella and cream cheese, are having a relatively lower histamine level.

For those who have poor gastrointestinal issues, check out this FODMAP article for gorgonzola.

The function of histamine in healthy individual

Histamine plays a huge role in our body immune system and also serve as metabolism mediators in many biological pathways.

For normal people, our body can breakdown the excess histamine from food in two ways — one (mainly) is by the enzyme in the intestine called diamine oxidase (DAO), and secondly by histamine N-methyltransferase (HNMT) which present in most of our body tissue.

The reasons for these enzymes insufficiently or failed to action is not fully understood.

There are 5 main reasons affecting the histamine level in cheese:

  • The type of bacteria
  • pH and salt concentration
  • Aging time
  • Temperature
  • Handling procedure and contamination

Why does cheese aging affect the histamine level?

Traditionally, Feta will be stored in low temperature in an underground cave or cellar.

Then, it will be left for aging/ripening for months in wooden barrels. Some cheese may take years to age. This is an essential step to make cheese taste great and tangy.

But, not all histamine in cheese will be increased after a period of aging. Some don’t.

It all depends on the presence of histamine-producing bacteria.

Bacteria involves in producing the histamine includes Morganella morganiiPhotobacterium psychrotoleransPhotobacterium phosphoreumLactobacillus caseiKlebsiella pneumoniaeEnterobacter aerogenes, and Hafnia alvei (1).

Speaking of bacteria, you may want to see these bacteria presence in parmesan cheese..

And also the temperature…

The improper storing (and fluctuation of) temperature actually plays an important role in the histamine level. All and all, it depends on the method of different cheesemakers.

A study (2) has been carried out to test the histamine level using the lazur blue cheese, brie, camembert, and gorgonzola stored under 72°F and 39°F, for months.

And the result shows that,

cheese stored at 72°F gave a 2x higher histamine level than storing at 39°F. Particularly, gorgonzola reached more than 700 mg/kg of unsafe histamine level at the end of 42 days — long passed 400 mg/kg during the 28th day, and camembert was hitting 400 mg/kg in 112 days at 39°F.

It also implies that the longer you left the cheese in room temperature, the higher the histamine content.

So, is feta or other soft cheese suitable for pregnant women to eat? read my explanation.