Peanut butter is such a part of childhood for so many of us. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich could be the symbol of childhood lunches. But for those kids who are allergic, the joy of peanut butter is unattainable. More importantly, nuts and nut products that trigger reactions in these children are like dangerous weapons. One mistake with peanut butter for a child with a severe allergy could mean a life-threatening reaction. What if there were a peanut that didn’t cause reactions? It just may be that a hypoallergenic peanut butter is right around the corner.
Peanut Allergy Facts and How Hypoallergenic Peanut Butter Could Save Lives
Peanuts represent one of the “big eight” allergens, those eight foods that make up the majority of food allergies in the U.S. It is also the allergen most associated with anaphylaxis, the life-threatening, severe allergic reaction that requires immediate emergency medical treatment. According to academic surveys, the number of peanut allergies in children tripled between 1997 and 2008.
About 20 percent of children with a peanut allergy will outgrow it, but the rest will live with it into adulthood. Allergic reactions are so severe for some kids that parents have to be extremely careful about what they eat and how their food might get contaminated. Many schools have even gone peanut-free to prevent reactions. In spite of the care taken, reactions still happen and can be deadly. A hypoallergenic peanut butter could eliminate some of the risks for these vulnerable children by providing a safe alternative.
Hypoallergenic Peanut Butter: Coming Soon to a Grocery Store Near You
Hypoallergenic peanut butter could be a reality soon. With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, researchers from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University have developed a method for making peanuts up to 98 percent free of allergens. It doesn’t require any chemicals that could be harmful or genetic modification. It only uses food-processing equipment that is common and readily available along with food-grade enzymes.
The researchers tested the new peanuts in patients with a skin prick test and determined that the process was effective in removing most of the allergens from the peanuts. This could mean that for a child with a severe allergy, contact with the peanut would cause a mild reaction at most. Eliminating the possibility of anaphylaxis is a huge deal for kids whose lives are threatened by just a tiny amount of peanut.
The hypoallergenic peanut butter could be useful as more than just a substitute for regular peanut butter. Because it doesn’t eliminate 100 percent of the allergens from peanuts, the process could be used to create peanuts for immunotherapy. This is the process of treating an allergy by giving a child increasingly greater amounts of an allergen. This kind of treatment can be risky and is only conducted by a doctor, but with a peanut whose allergen content is known, dosing out the allergen would be more precise and safer during immunotherapy treatments.
When Can You Get Hypoallergenic Peanut Butter?
Unfortunately the product is not yet ready to hit store shelves, but it could be soon. There may even be tree nuts coming as well, treated with the same process. The university holds the patent for the process, but they are already in a licensing agreement with a company to produce the reduced-allergen nuts and related products, like hypoallergenic peanut butter.
How fast the products will come to your grocery store shelves depends on how quickly the company can develop a way to make the process fast. They need to be able to treat peanuts on a commercial scale to make it a profitable venture. The researchers who worked on the project believe that it won’t take long and that before you know it, you will see hypoallergenic peanut butter, peanuts and all kinds of products that take much of the danger out of your favorite foods.