Since the early beginning of allergology as a science considerable efforts have been made by clinicians and researchers to identify and characterize allergic triggers as raw allergenic materials, allergenic sources and tissues, and more recently basic allergenic structures defined as molecules. The last 15–20 years have witnessed many centres focusing on the identification and characterization of allergenic molecules leading to an expanding wealth of knowledge. The need to organize this information leads to the most important question ‘when does a protein become an allergen?’ In this article, I try to address this question by reviewing a few basic concepts of the immunology of IgE-mediated diseases, reporting on the current diagnostic and epidemiological tools used for allergic disease studies and discussing the usefulness of novel biotechnology tools (i.e. proteomics and molecular biology approaches), information technology tools (i.e. Internet-based resources) and microtechnology tools (i.e. proteomic microarray for IgE testing on molecular allergens). A step-wise staging of the identification and characterization process, including bench, clinical and epidemiological aspects, is proposed, in order to classify allergenic molecules dynamically. This proposal reflects the application and use of all the new tools available from current technologies.