North Carolina A&T University introduces hypoallergenic peanuts


Photo courtesy Bhaskaranaidu

Already a staple of many a college student’s diet, peanut butter may be on the brink of even greater popularity. Emerging research from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University has introduced a hypoallergenic peanut, which—as of this August—the University has agreed to commercialize.

According to its website, North Carolina A&T holds a patent on an enzyme-treatment process that reduces the allergen content of peanuts by 98 percent. This development is of particular relevance to the 0.9 percent of the United States population (some 2.8 million individuals) who exhibit severe allergic reactions to peanuts and peanut products.

In addition to making peanuts available to a previously untapped pool of consumers, the treatment process produces goods that are not genetically modified and which maintain the nutrition characteristics of conventional peanuts.

Hypoallergenic peanuts also retain the versatility of their pre-treatment counterparts. Dr. Jianmei Yu, a nutrition researcher and one of the process’ developers, reports on the North Carolina A&T University’s website that “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.” According to Dr. Yu, “treated peanuts can also be used in immunotherapy” to increase allergic individuals’ resistance to allergens present in regular peanuts.

The process for treating peanuts to remove allergens uses enzymes already common in food processing. To make the peanuts hypoallergenic, scientists take shelled roasted peanuts and soak them in an enzyme solution that drastically reduces the allergen content. In clinical trials, skin-prick tests on human subjects confirmed that the treated peanuts did not trigger an allergic reaction.

Attempting to remove allergens from peanuts is not a novel concept, but North Carolina A&T’s process is unique in that it does not rely on irradiation (exposing peanuts to radiation), genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), or uncommon equipment. The resulting hypoallergenic peanuts maintain the taste and appearance of regular roasted peanuts.

These new peanuts could soon be ready for marketing, thanks to North Carolina A&T’s commercialization agreement, signed in August with Xemerge, a Toronto commercialization firm. According to Xemerge’s Chief Commercialization Officer, Johnny Rodrigues, the products of hypoallergenic peanuts are “ready for industry integration from processing and manufacturing to consumer products.”

In the United States, peanuts have a strong presence as a common and adaptable ingredient. According to The American Peanut Council, peanuts rank among the top fifteen most profitable crops in the United States, valued at upwards of $1 billion dollars. The National Peanut Board reports that Americans consume more than $2 billion dollars’ worth of peanut products annually — adding up to about six pounds per person per year.

New developments to reduce allergen content promise to expand the market not only to allergic individuals, but also to settings where peanut consumption has traditionally been restricted for the safety of those individuals.