Wade Yang, from the University of Florida, said the new technique could be used at the processing stage to diminish the allergy-causing proteins in peanuts before they reach supermarket shelves.
And future research by the assistant professor at the university’s food science and human nutrition department will focus on developing a one-step roasting and allergen reduction process by PUV to produce hypoallergenic whole peanuts.
More than three million people suffer from peanut and tree nut allergies in the US alone. Anaphylaxis or severe allergic reaction – which can occur from eating peanut, peanut-containing food or even the smallest exposure to the nuts in some people – are said to be the main causes of illness or death. Complete avoidance of peanuts is currently the safest course of action for allergy sufferers.
The research found that releasing the concentrated bursts of PUV actually transforms the peanut allergens. This means human antibodies are unable to recognise them – thus preventing the release of histamines, substances which are responsible for allergy symptoms such as itching and wheezing.
“We believe the allergen can be controlled at the processing stage, before the product even goes to the shelf,” Yang said.
Zapping peanuts with PUV cut the allergenic potential of a trio of the most allergenic proteins they contain, said the scientist.
“The reduction of one of the proteins — Ara h2, the most potent of the three — marked the first time this reduction has ever been achieved with PUV,” said Florida University.
The allergy reduction was confirmed using a biochemical test and by exposing the proteins to serum samples from patients with peanut allergies to see if an allergic reaction occurred.
Allergens were reduced in peanut extracts and peanut butter. Preliminary results – yet to be published - also demonstrated that PUV can significantly reduce the allergenic potential of whole peanuts.
The study has been published this month in the journal Food and Bioprocess Technology.