A scientist from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University claims to have devised a way to produce allergen-free peanuts.
Doug Speight of the N.C. A and T Office of Outreach and Technology Transfer said food companies are showing a strong interest in licensing the process, which does not degrade the taste or quality of treated peanuts, and might even render them easier to process for use as a food ingredient.
Immunoassays showed 100 percent inactivation of peanut allergens in whole roasted kernels, and the processed peanuts showed no reaction in tests on human serums from severely allergic individuals. The inventor, Dr. Mohamed Ahmedna, is optimizing the process further to remove allergens from other foods.
"We are extremely pleased that we were able to find such a simple solution to a vexing problem that has enormous economic and public health ramifications, both for peanut sensitive individuals, and the food industry as a whole," said Ahmedna, associate professor of food science in N.C. A&T's School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.
Peanut and tree nut allergies are the most severe of all food allergies, affecting approximately 3 million Americans, and causing 100 - 150 deaths from anaphylactic shock annually and many more hospitalizations.
In industrialized nations, the allergy has been rapidly increasing in children, for causes that are not entirely understood. One study showed that between 1997 and 2002, peanut allergies in children doubled in the United States. Today, an estimated one percent of all children suffer from the allergy.
Ahmedna's process is expected to add value to a crop that is already economically and nutritionally important. Peanuts are the 12th largest crop in the United States, with a farm value of close to $1 billion a year.
The Southeast is the main peanut producing region in the nation. Worldwide, the legume is even more important from an economic development standpoint. In developing nations, and Africa in particular, the soils and climate are especially suitable for peanuts.
Peanuts are not only important commercially, but nutritionally as well. Packed with proteins, healthy fats and a broad array of essential vitamins and minerals, they are considered an almost complete food. Their rich flavor, nutrition, fat and protein profile makes for a nearly perfect food from a food processing standpoint as well.