What Is Tara Flour? Daily Harvest Identifies Ingredient Linked to Illnesses and Recall

Hundreds of people have fallen ill—some severely—after consuming the company's French Lentil + Leek Crumbles.

Daily Harvest Crumbles
Daily Harvest

Daily Harvest has identified tara flour as the ingredient that has caused hundreds of customers to fall ill after eating the company's French Lentil + Leek Crumbles. The specific reason why tara flour is linked to the illnesses is still unknown, the company said Tuesday.

The news comes after Daily Harvest voluntarily recalled about 28,000 bags of the French Lentil + Leek Crumbles in June, following customer reports of gastrointestinal illness and potential liver function issues. As of June 23, Daily Harvest received about 470 reports of illness or adverse reactions to the crumbles.

A media release by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on July 14 added that the agency had received 277 consumer complaints regarding the crumbles, as well, which includes 96 hospitalizations.

"At this time, we have identified tara flour as the cause of the issue," Rachel Drori, CEO and founder of Daily Harvest said in a company post. "This was the first and only time we've used tara flour, which has been available and used in the North American market as a plant-based source of protein prior to our use."

Although the company identified tara flour as the problematic ingredient, they've been unable to pin down a specific root cause. According to the press release, in working with the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as "top doctors, microbiologists, toxicologists and three independent labs," Daily Harvest has ruled out a variety of processing issues or infections, including various toxins, foodborne pathogens, or allergens.

"Our investigation team will continue working with the FDA, the tara flour producer and others to help determine what specifically made people sick," Drori said.

What Is Tara Flour—And Is it Harmful?

Tara flour is a plant-based protein alternative that is made from the seeds or pods of the tara tree, known more technically as Caesalpinia spinosa or the Spiny Holdback. The plant is most prevalent in Peru, but grows in several South American countries.

"Tara flour is a relatively rare ingredient used in food processing and is the byproduct of processing the seed of the tara tree—a thorny tree-like shrub," Taylor Fazio, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietician and wellness advisor at The Lanby in New York City, told Health.

In the food industry, tara gum—which is not the same as tara flour and was not used in the Daily Harvest products, though it still comes from the same plant—is used as a thickening agent and stabilizer, but is also often used in vegan and gluten-free foods due to its high protein and fiber, and low carb content, according to Fazio. Other parts of the tara tree have been used in pharmaceuticals, paint production, and paper or plastic manufacturing.

At this time, there is no indication from the FDA or Daily Harvest of what exactly about the tara flour has made people sick, but according to Fazio, both tara flour and gum are not inherently toxic, and tara gum is not a common allergen.

The likeliest cause of the illnesses—though nothing has yet been identified—may be be related to the manufacturing and/or processing of the tara flour used. "Since this outbreak seems to be limited to Daily Harvest, I think it's related to the particular brand or type of tara flour used," Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD, a medical toxicologist and co-medical director at the National Capital Poison Center, told Health. "This brings me back to the manufacturing and processing of the product as a potential source of contamination."

Fazio agrees: "Per current reports from Daily Harvest and the FDA, the company that sourced the tara flour likely had some cross contamination in the ingredient, but exact details are not currently available," she said.

While Daily Harvest and public health agencies continue to investigate the root cause of the illnesses, the FDA has urged consumers not to eat, sell, or serve the recalled products; and to throw away any recalled products that may still be in their freezers.

If you do happen to eat the French Lentil + Leek Crumbles, and you experience jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, itching with no rash, gastrointestinal illness, nausea, fatigue, body aches, severe abdominal pain, and/or fever, consult your health care provider and let them know you recently consumed the recalled product.

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