Flavoring is a really tricky issue if you are hypersensitive to nickel, especially since they are so hard to avoid. If a product contains “flavor”, it’s best to assume it’s artificial, i.e., synthetically produced. Although I am not sure why these artificial flavors cause an allergic reaction, I never fail to get one. Maybe food that contains artificial flavoring generally has a lot of other dubious ingredients…
In any case, I recommend avoiding anything that lists “aroma” or “flavoring” without telling you of what kind it is. Which brings me to my next point: “Natural flavor” is derived from natural sources, but “natural” covers a wide spectrum. For example, vanillin can be derived from lignin, which you find in tree bark. Only if a flavor names its source, it also has to contain that source. For example, “natural apple flavor” has to contain some apple, even if it has been chemically enhanced. Unfortunately, many labels list “natural so-and-so flavor and other natural flavors.” For me, this is a no-no, mainly because “other natural flavors” often means vanillin. Real vanilla from the vanilla orchid is quite expensive, so most products contain human-made vanillin from other “natural” sources. All these other sources seem to be really problematic if you are hypersensitive to nickel. I know that if I eat anything containing vanillin, I will see the first red patches on my palms in a matter of days. What I find really frustrating is that you find vanillin in all sorts of other products, such as lip balm, lemongrass tea, multivitamins, even peppermint candy. Makes you wonder… Luckily, by now there are more and more food products containing real vanilla or bourbon vanilla – and nothing else.
Having said that, I never order any kind of dessert or cake in a restaurant unless I have a list of all ingredients. Not only because few people will know there difference between real vanilla and natural flavor, but also because there is another trap: soy-lecithin.
Soy-lecithin is just as ubiquitous as vanillin, and almost as bad. The good news is that it is usually listed on the label in bold print. A popular ingredient in chocolate and all sorts of candy and ice cream, it is also found in countless other products, such a baked goods. I have no problems with sunflower-lecithin.
What about chocoholics?
With cocoa and vanillin out of the picture, there is not a lot of chocolate left. If you like white chocolate, there is hope: There are certain brands that have no soy-lecithin and contain only real vanilla – and they are really tasty too.