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The hypoallergenic peanuts are made to look and taste like regular roasted peanuts, and they are not genetically modified. (Thinkstock)
The hypoallergenic peanuts are made to look and taste like regular roasted peanuts, and they are not genetically modified. (Thinkstock)

The hypoallergenic peanut comes closer to reality Add to ...

Hypoallergenic peanut products could some day be available to the millions of consumers who are allergic to regular peanuts. Researchers from North Carolina’s Agricultural and Technical State University have developed a patented process that reduces peanut allergens – the substances that trigger allergic reactions – by up to 98 per cent. The new process reduces them by soaking de-shelled and roasted peanuts in a solution of food-grade enzymes.

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The treated peanuts are made to look and taste like regular roasted peanuts, and they are not genetically modified.

“Treated peanuts can be used as whole peanuts, in pieces or as flour to make foods containing peanuts safer for many people who are allergic,” lead researcher Jianmei Yu said in a statement.

The treated peanuts could even be used in immunotherapy, under a doctor’s supervision, she added. Human skin-prick trials were conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to measure the effectiveness of the process. The process reduces two key peanut allergy triggers called Ara h 1 and Ara h 2. It reduces the first to undetectable levels, and the second by up to 98 per cent.

Agricultural and Technical State University recently signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Xemerge, a Toronto-based firm commercializing emerging technologies in food and agriculture. Xemerge recently opened an office near the university’s campus in Greensboro, N.C.

“It is definitely exciting to realize that we are actually able to commercialize one of our technologies,” said Louis Judge III, director of technology transfer with the university.

Johnny Rodrigues, chief commercialization officer of Xemerge, said there’s still no timetable for when hypoallergenic peanut products would be available to food manufacturers or in stores. “We have the FDA, and food manufacturers’ product cycles to factor in,” Rodrigues added. “Remember that in many cases, the peanut processors will be selling to a third party who will be integrating the hypoallergenic peanuts into their branded products.”

The initial research funding was provided by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Yu, in collaboration with Xemerge, is working to refine the process by testing the effectiveness of other enzymes.

But Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a pediatrician at Northwestern University in Chicago and author of The Food Allergy Experience, says allergy sufferers should be wary of new products.

“I love that people are working on products to improve the lives of people with peanut allergies, but do we need them and will people use them? I think more testing is needed,” she said. “Even a small amount of the allergenic proteins in peanuts can cause very severe allergic reactions.”

These reactions can vary from mild hives to severe swelling and low blood pressure. For adults living with peanut allergies, Gupta recommends they try soy or almond-based products.

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