Peanut allergies are among the most common and most dangerous food allergies. Unlike other food allergies, it’s one that has the potential to stay with patients for their entire lives. A company called Xemerge hopes to commercialize "hypoallergenic peanuts" to help bring some relief to peanut allergy sufferers. The innovative new peanuts are being licensed by North Carolina A&T State University.
Approximately three million people in America are allergic to tree nuts, and peanuts are the most common. Children’s peanut allergies have tripled between 1997 and 2008 and researchers are still not sure why. Scientists are now hoping that in a few years hypoallergenic peanuts will come into the market, providing a safe alternative for the growing population of peanut allergy sufferers.
"This is one of the best technologies in the food and nutrition space we have seen," said Johnny Rodrigues, Chief Commercialization Officer of Xemerge, in a press release. "It checks all the boxes: non-GMO, patented, human clinical data, does not change physical characteristics of the peanut along with maintaining the nutrition and functionality needed, ready for industry integration from processing and manufacturing to consumer products."
The process of making hypoallergenic peanuts will consist of soaking peanuts in an enzymatic solution, which reduces two key allergens: Ara h 1 and Ara h 2. Hypoallergenic peanuts diminish Ara h1 to nearly undetectable levels and Ara h 2 by up to 98 percent. The peanuts will not be genetically modified and will taste and look just like roasted peanuts. The N.C. A&T process does not use chemicals and uses widely available food-processing equipment.
According to the news release, this process was developed by Dr. Jianmei Yu, a food and nutrition researcher in the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, department of family and consumer sciences, and two former A&T faculty members, Dr. Mohamed Ahmedna and Dr. Ipek Goktepe. In collaboration with Xemerge, Dr. Yu is continuing to refine the process by testing the effectiveness of additional food-grade enzymes.
“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,” Dr. Yu said.“Treated peanuts also can be used in immunotherapy,” she continued. “Under a doctor’s supervision, the hypoallergenic peanuts can build up a patient’s resistance to the allergens.”
According to Food Allergy Research and Education, every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department — that’s approximately more than 200,000 emergency department visits per year. This new peanut could drastically change the way many people eat.
The funding for this research was provided by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.