Millions of people with peanut allergies might someday be able to toss the substitutes, enjoy real peanut-butter sandwiches, and go to a baseball game without fear.
A team at North Carolina’s Agricultural and Technical State University has developed a patented process that reduces peanut allergens by up to 98 percent.
When someone has a peanut allergy, there are different parts of the peanut molecule that can cause their reaction. A peanut is 25 percent protein, and the two proteins that are most likely to cause dangerous reactions are called “Ara h 1” and “Ara h 2.”
The researchers are confident they have a way to eliminate the parts of the peanut molecule that are most likely to cause an allergic reaction. The hypoallergenic peanuts are de-shelled, roasted, and then soaked in a special solution of food-grade enzymes. They look and taste like regular peanuts.
Researchers say the treated peanuts could replace regular peanuts in recipes — or eaten whole as a snack — and they could also be ground into a flour that could make other peanut-rich foods safer for people with peanut allergies.
North Carolina’s Agricultural and Technical State University recently signed with food and agriculture technology firm Xemerge, which is based in Toronto but opened an office near the university. The researchers say they are excited to work with the firm to commercialize their product, but it’s too early to say when the treated-peanut products will be available for sale.
The treated peanuts are described by Xemerge as “one of the best technologies in the food and nutrition space [they] have ever seen.” The peanuts are not genetically modified, the process doesn’t affect the peanuts’ physical characteristics or change their nutritional value, and they have human clinical data to back up their claims.
Close to three million Americans are allergic to nuts, and peanuts are the most common nut allergy. From 1997 to 2008, the number of children with peanut allergies has tripled.
Once the treated peanuts are available for consumer use, experts caution that people with peanut allergies should do a challenge in their allergist’s office — just to be sure they will react favorably to this new product.