Hope or Hype? New Hypoallergenic Peanuts May Soon Be Available

peanut butter sandwichPeanut allergies are the most prevalent, fastest growing and most severe of the food allergies, in terms of sufferers’ reaction to allergens. In children, accidental ingestion of peanut allergens is also fast growing and has increasingly devastating results. Because of the significant health issues posed by peanut allergies, research surrounding the elimination of peanut allergens has been growing in intensity.

Additionally, peanuts are considered an almost nutritionally complete food, because they are packed with proteins, healthy fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Yet nearly 2.8 million people cannot eat this super nutritious food. Thankfully, while scientists continue working on reducing allergens from all foods, research concerning the elimination of peanut allergens has been the most promising.

Enter the Hypoallergenic Peanut

Hypoallergenic peanuts are developed by taking shelled raw, blanched or roasted nuts and soaking them in food enzymes commonly used in food processing. This process significantly reduces most peanut allergens by more than 30 percent and reduces two major allergens by more than 98 percent, essentially eliminating them. The process is also fast, easy and inexpensive since it utilizes methods that are already commonly used. This new hypoallergenic peanut can be used in a variety of products such as peanut flour, peanut butter or other peanut-based snacks. But is it time to break out the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for kids? And what does this new peanut look, smell and taste like? Is it nutritionally sound for children?

Sometimes It Acts Like a Nut, Sometimes It Doesn’t…

According to researchers, the look, smell, taste and nutritional integrity of the hypoallergenic peanut is not destroyed during the process. Researchers also say that the peanut is not irradiated, genetically modified and doesn’t contain GMOs or other chemicals. The hypoallergenic peanut appears to perform the same as a regular, non-hypoallergenic peanut except for the presence of allergens. The hypoallergenic peanut looks, smells, tastes and can be used like regular peanuts but without containing high levels of allergens known to cause reactions when ingested by children.

But Is It Safe?

According to scientists, hypoallergenic processing of peanuts only radically minimizes or eliminates two allergens commonly found in peanuts. Other allergens are merely “significantly reduced,” meaning there was a 30 percent or more reduction in the allergen’s presence. However, there are several allergens found in peanuts and a reaction to even one, even in a small amount, could be deadly. Though the evidence shows treating peanuts with enzymes reduces the presence of allergens, clinic trials are still needed to confirm that humans will not have negative reactions to the hypoallergenic peanut, or the allergens still present.

Since the hypoallergenic peanut is reportedly indistinguishable from the regular allergenic peanut, concern has also risen over the potential for mistaking a regular peanut for a hypoallergenic peanut when side-by-side. But because previous studies have been so promising, several food-manufacturing companies have shown strong interest in licensing the process for commercial purposes despite concerns.

What’s Next?

Recently, the UDSA provided a grant to the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T), where the original study was conducted, to begin clinical trials and consumer testing. To start, scientists will conduct “histamine release tests using blood samples” from people allergic to peanuts. Only samples that show a complete inactivation of allergens will be used in a subsequent skin prick test of volunteers. The hope is that clinical trials will expose any issues or confirm the hypoallergenic peanut is safe for consumption by kids and adults who suffer from peanut allergies.

There is hope the hypoallergenic peanut will successfully eliminate allergy sufferers’ allergic reaction to peanuts, or alternatively, reduce the severity of allergic reaction. If clinical trials are successful, the potential for commercial application is limitless.

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