There is something absolutely magical about Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The picturesque canals, world-class museums, art, history, and more are sights you simply can’t beat. However, there is so much more to the Netherlands than just Amsterdam. With its windmills, small towns only reachable by boat, cobbled streets, and eclectic mix of cultures and Dutch cuisines, there’s so much to enjoy. If the thought of traveling to the Netherlands with food allergies leaves you feeling a little nervous and overwhelmed, fear not! Consider this blog post your food allergy guide to Amsterdam and the Netherlands.
Traveling to the Netherlands with Food Allergies
The Netherlands is a country that surrounds you with fried food and cheese, but you can still find gluten-free and dairy-free options. However, keep in mind that dairy will most likely be present in a lot of restaurants, so it’s important to communicate with restaurant staff ahead of time and upon arrival to ensure cross contamination is not present if you choose to eat there.
The Netherlands is a large importer of soy, but it is mainly used for cattle feed. Nuts are also widely used and found throughout food in the Netherlands, from snack bars, to almond paste, hazelnut on stroopwafels, and more.
Food Labeling Laws in the Netherlands
Understanding the food labeling laws in the Netherlands is crucial for those traveling in with food allergies. The Netherlands follows the same EU regulations for food labeling as other countries, such as France or Italy.
Allergens must be labeled clearly on packaged foods. EU Regulation 1169/2011 states that all food businesses must inform you clearly of any use of the 14 designated “most potent” allergens as ingredients in any food or drink they provide.
These allergens are:
- Cereals containing gluten.
- Sulfur Dioxide and Sulphites.
- Tree Nuts.
Be sure to familiarize yourself with this list and these laws before traveling to the Netherlands with food allergies, that way you feel more comfortable navigating restaurants, cafés, grocery stores, etc.
Although these laws and regulations are in place, the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), did find several violations and gaps when it comes to food labeling throughout the country.
Many businesses in the retail, artisan, and catering sector were found to NOT properly inform their customers of the allergens found in their food.
In a 2021 study, out of 5,000 surveyed companies, more than 2,000 of them did NOT meet the allergen requirements. You can read more about this study and the results here.
While it is never great to see so many restaurants, bakeries, retails, etc, in violation of not having the appropriate written allergen information, the NVWA is giving them a period of time to correct the issue. If they are still in violation after the set period of time, they will get fined.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t any knowledge regarding food allergies in the Netherlands and these places, just make sure that you do your research either on your own or with me through restaurant research to be prepared for your trip. And don’t forget that Food Allergy Chef Card in Dutch!
Are the Netherlands Good With Food Allergies?
In the larger cities, especially Amsterdam, you’ll find more opportunities to eat for food allergies, especially with multiple food allergies. However, you’ll have to determine using your own discretion and comfort level if the Netherlands has food that falls in your safe food category or not.
Amsterdam in particular does have more of a variety of food types, from simple foods to more interesting cuisines.
With the NVWA giving out violations, more written allergen information should be coming out at restaurants, but make sure you still do your research before your trip. This will prevent you from wandering in and out of restaurants.
Remember, just because a restaurant has allergy information, doesn’t mean that they can handle your allergies and provide your safe foods. Communicate thoroughly with restaurant staff before your trip and during your visit.
Most people in Amsterdam speak English well, so you can explain your allergies and needs without needing to translate. However, in order to read the labels of food products, you’ll need to know certain words, such as: melk (milk), glutenvrij (gluten-free), and zuiel vrij (dairy-free). But I always recommend getting a food allergy chef card in Dutch through a reliable company to ensure you are communicating with staff correctly.
Importation Guidelines and What Can You Bring Into the Netherlands Legally
If you are traveling to the Netherlands, there are importation guidelines and rules for what foods and drinks you can and can’t take with you. If you are planning on bringing some of your own ingredients and snacks (which I highly recommend bringing at least a few safe foods!), then it’s essential that you familiarize yourself with these guidelines.
You can legally bring nuts and seeds, tea and coffee, olive oil, chocolate, and sweets for your own personal use into the Netherlands from any country.
There are certain restrictions and guidelines you must follow on bringing meat and fish, milk and cheese, honey, fruit and vegetables, and herbs into the Netherlands. It depends on which country it’s coming from and how much there is. Oftentimes, if it is coming from another EU country, there are no restrictions and those foods can be brought in.
What Can You NOT Bring Into the Netherlands?
Similarly, you need to know what you can NOT bring into the Netherlands with you.
There are certain meat, fish, and seafood products, unpasteurized dairy products, and products containing GMOs that cannot be brought into the Netherlands. Live animals and animal products are also prohibited. Typically these restrictions are in place when traveling in from another non-EU country.
As a food allergy traveler, you’ll also want to know the guidelines around bringing in medication, such as Benadryl and Epi-pens, to the Netherlands. Most medicines can be brought into the Netherlands without any problems, but some require a medication certificate, such as those with narcotics, such as sleeping pills, strong painkillers, ADHD medication, etc.
Be sure to keep your medication in the original packaging with the labeling intact so it is clear what medication you are carrying.
The laws and regulations around what can and can’t be brought into the Netherlands can change at any time, so be sure to double-check before setting off on your Netherlands vacation.
Exploring the Local Cuisine of the Netherlands
Get ready to indulge in the iconic dishes of the Netherlands with consideration to your allergens and safe foods.
Here are some of the Netherlands most iconic dishes and key things to keep in mind when considering your allergens:
- Stroopwafels – This is made with two thin layers of baked dough with caramel syrup in the center. Check the ingredients in the dough for gluten, dairy, egg, and nuts.
- Gouda Cheese – This popular cheese comes from Gouda, Netherlands itself and is made from cow’s milk
- Stamppot – This dish contains mashed potatoes and a variety of vegetables from spinach to kale, carrots, and turnip greens. It can be served with meat like smoked sausage. Ask how the mashed potatoes are prepared, as dairy may be used.
- Kibbeling – This is the Dutch version of fish and chips. It is made with a white fish, topped with tartar sauce, and served with a side of fries.
- Dutch Apple Pie – This tasty dessert is made with cinnamon, raisins, and fresh whipped cream.
- Poffertjes – This is a puffy pancake made with yeast and buckwheat flour and is commonly topped with syrup, powdered sugar, cinnamon, butter, or even chocolate syrup at the Christmas markets.
- Pannekoeken – This is another pancake-type food, but it is more of a dinner plate-sized specialty. It can be made with a variety of options like meat, cheese, and vegetables. The pancake is made from flour, sugar, milk, and butter as the base.
- Speculaas – These delicious spiced cookies are made with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and more seasonal spices. The cookie is made out of flour, sugar, milk, and butter.
- Bitterballen – These breaded fried balls are filled with gravy and found in most pubs. They are often enjoyed with mustard and a beer. Watch out for gluten, egg, and dairy in the fry batter.
- Patat frites – These are french fries that come with a variety of sauce options. Watch out for the oil they use with the fries and the sauces, as they can include gluten, dairy, soy, sesame, egg, or nuts – plus more!
Navigating Netherlands With Food Allergies
While the Netherlands has come a long way with food allergies, sticking to larger cities like Amsterdam and pre planning your trip based on your allergies and safe foods will help you have a successful, more comfortable and enjoyable visit. You can always do day trips from Amsterdam and pack a lunch, or if you decide to stay in smaller towns, get an apartment, then you’ll have a kitchen to use if needed.
As NVWA cracks down on restaurants, more notations will be made around allergen information and labeling, but that still needs to be researched and evaluated. Having a kitchen at your fingertips or a hotel or accommodation that can provide for you will be key for you traveling in the Netherlands with food allergies so you can have a backup plan.
If you’re looking to plan a trip to the Netherlands with careful consideration of your food allergies, needs, and bucket list items, I’d be happy to help!
Visit my contact page to book a consultation and/or inquire about my full-service travel planning. I’d love to help you make amazing memories in the Netherlands and Amsterdam without the constant stress and worry of how to navigate your trip with food allergies.