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Eating with a corn allergy in Champaign-Urbana

Eating food when you have allergies is difficult. You may be familiar with a peanut allergy or dairy allergy, but you may not have heard much about a corn allergy. My son has a severe corn allergy, and before his diagnosis, I didn’t know it was even possible to be allergic to corn.

Those with a corn allergy cannot have the obvious corn: corn kernels, popcorn, corn oil, cornmeal, corn flour, corn starch, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn alcohol, and maize. Corn can be in foods with ingredient labels that don’t mention corn; labels that read vegetable oil, white vinegar, salted butter, modified food starch, dextrose, maltodextrin, ascorbic acid, citric acid, xanthan gum, invert syrup, and more. Corn is found in cereals, jams, syrups, sauces, crackers, cookies, canned fruits, deli meats, and juice. This article from The Atlantic does an excellent job explaining what it’s like to be allergic to corn, and this website does a great job detailing where corn is found in food. 

Did you know baking powder has corn in it? It is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and corn starch. Did you know powdered sugar is made of sugar and corn starch? Even table salt is not free from corn. Table iodized salt contains dextrose, a sugar derived from corn.

Finding safe foods for someone with a corn allergy can feel impossible, and for 18 months, I tried to only feed my son food that I had prepared at home with ingredients I knew to be free from corn. It’s only now that I feel more confident in managing his corn allergy that I haved started trying to order from restaurants for him. I know pre-shredded cheese is likely to be coated in corn starch, that there are no safe chicken nuggets, and that it’s best to talk to the chef to make sure I know exactly what is in the dish I’m ordering for my son.

If you or someone you know is managing a corn allergy in C-U, this is a good starter list. There are not many options for going out to eat with this allergy, but I have found five dishes in C-U that have been successful for my son with a corn allergy: two breakfast treats, a chicken dish, a splurge dinner, and a pizza.

A lightly golden croissant from Art Mart in Champaign is rolled and flaky with bits of chocolate sticking out the edge. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Chocolate Croissant | Art Mart

Who doesn’t love Art Mart’s croissants? My son loves this chocolate croissant (and so do I). At $3, it is a buttery, flaky croissant filled with melted chocolate chunks. Like all of Art Mart’s croissants, they’re made fresh and available daily in the pastry case. It’s a large size for a child, but it is a great treat on a weekend morning or on a particularly rough day.

Before I offered this to my son, I emailed with a staff person at Art Mart, and I asked her which menu items were free from corn. I gave her my list of the usual corn and corn derivatives, and she kindly informed me that this chocolate croissant (and the chocolate chip cookie) is safe. We’ve had this treat several times with no reaction.

Art Mart
1705 S Prospect Ave
M-Sa 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Su 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Five naked donuts sit in a donut box from Industrial Donuts in Savoy. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Naked Donuts | Industrial Donut

This probably doesn’t look exciting, but it’s hard to find a donut that is corn-free. Most donuts come with icing made with corn starch or batter made with dextrose, xanthan gum, and other corny ingredients. Naked donuts ($8.99 for a half dozen, $14.99 for a dozen) are on the regular menu at Industrial, and ordering plain donuts isn’t a trouble. The batter is safe, but unfortunately, none of the glazes or toppings are corn-free. They have all sorts of toppings that are popular, but my son can’t enjoy them. We like to order a half dozen naked donuts to take home.

I spoke with the owner Becca about her donuts before we tried these, and she was so transparent and let me read all the ingredients myself. Once I knew the batter was safe, it has become a yummy option when we’re feeling like donuts.

Donuts with varying toppings are on a black cutting board. The closest one is tossed in cinnamon sugar, and the others are frosted with white icing. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

We buy speciality powdered sugar (made with tapioca starch) and speciality sprinkles (made with potato starch and tapioca syrup), so I was able to dress up the donuts at home. Another easy way to take these naked donuts from plain to delicious is to roll them arouond in a cinnamon-sugar mixture. 

Industrial Donut
501 Commerce Dr
M-Sa 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Malai chicken with a white herby sauce is layered over white rice in a light green bowl. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Malai Chicken | Himalayan Chimney

Malai chicken ($15.99) as prepared by the chef at Himalayan Chimney is made using only a few ingredients and with chicken cooked in a clay oven. The malai chicken dish was delicious. It had a light, creamy sauce with mild flavors. There were big pieces of tender meat, onions, and peppers. I couldn’t really put my finger on the exact flavor, but perhaps it was the cardamom that gave it a fragrant taste. It was a comforting dish that was so good over white rice.

Before ordering, I spoke with someone on staff and shared a (long) list of ingredients that my son avoids. I asked them to recommend a dish that had just a few ingredients and be free from corn. They spoke with the chef and got back to me later with all of the ingredients for this dish. The night I ordered, the chef called me prior to preparing the dish since I made a note that it was a dish for someone with allergies, and he spoke to me about the ingredients before he even began cooking. We felt so safe, and I think the chef would be accomodating of any allergies if you can speak with the staff before ordering.

Himalyan Chimney
134 W Church St
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5 to 10 p.m.
Su noon to 3 p.m. 5 to 9:30 p.m.

A small square black styrofoam container reads

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Filet Mignon | Miga

Sometimes, the occasion calls for fine dining, and when it does, Miga is a good option. Miga offers many options for hibachi carryout and delivery right now. The filet mignon hibachi is $24. Once again, I called before placing my order to be sure that the food I ordered would be safe for my son. I spoke with a staff member who took a moment to speak with the chef about the filet. I wanted to be sure the filet wasn’t marinated or covered in any sauce, and she confirmed that it was a simply seasoned filet mignon.

Chunks of filet mignon sit in a black square styrofoam container on a black table. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The filet was packaged separately from the rest of the hibachi meal which I appreciated. The filet mignon was expertly cooked and cut into small, bite-sized pieces that were pink in the center. The meat was so flavorful that the steak sat in a bed of its own juices. The tender cut melted in our mouth, and it was devoured quickly. As promised, the seasonings were simple and let the meaty flavor of the filet mignon sing. The filet mignon hibachi from Miga comes with miso soup, hibachi vegetables, shrimp dumplings, and fried rice — none of which I asked about ingredients since my son was happy just to have a good steak. 

212 E Green St
M-Th 5 to 9:30 p.m.
F+Sa 5 to 10:30 p.m.

An overhead shot of a wooden table at Blaze Pizza. Two pizzas with toppings are cut off on the bottom, and in the center is a plain cheese pizza with one slice missing. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Cheese Pizza | Blaze Pizza

A plain, cheese pizza doesn’t sound all that thrilling, but hey, it is when you’re five years old. This pizza was made to order, so I watched the pizza being made. I asked the staff to use olive oil (one of their garnish options after the pizza comes out of the oven) as my son’s sauce with the only cheese on the menu that’s safe for him to eat: freshly torn mozzarella cheese.

The pizza is hot from the oven (if you’re dining in), and it stayed pretty warm when we have taken it home. It’s cheesy and basic in the best way.

Blaze is very open about ingredients on their website, so I was able to read all of the ingredients ahead of time and know that this order was corn-free. In particular, Blaze does not use cornmeal on the bottom of their pizzas as most pizzerias do. The sauces on Blaze’s menu are not safe: there’s citric acid in the tomato (and spicy tomato) sauce, powdered cellulose in the garlic pesto sauce, and the white cream sauce contains corn starch, citric acid, and xanthan gum. Olive oil is the only corn-free option for pizza sauce.

Because he’s five, a plain cheese pizza is all he wants, so that’s all he orders. If someone with a corn allergy wanted to add toppings, these toppings are safe and corn-free: fresh basil, black olives, fresh cherry tomatoes, fresh garlic, green peppers, Kalamata olives, mushrooms, red onions, roasted brussels sprouts, and spinach. Most other ingredients contain corn in the form of dextrose, citric acid, or corn starch.

Blaze Pizza
2506 N Prospect Ave
Su-Th 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
F+Sa 10: 30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

If you know a dish that may be corn-free, please reach out to me at Alyssa I’d love to try it.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

Food + Drink Editor

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