Allergy-Free Nuts? Maybe Not As Far Off As You Think

Tree nut and peanut allergies are some of the most common as well as some of the most commonly discussed food allergies. Without fail, every year we hear at least a handful of stories about those who are severely allergic coming in contact with and ultimately dying from food allergies. The standard way most deal with food allergies is with allergy shots (or another type of desensitization procedure) or strict avoidance. Yet neither is fullproof. A team of researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are approaching this problem by not changing the person dealing with allergies but instead by changing the food.

_Allergy-Free Cashews? Maybe!Allergy-free peanuts? While it may seem a bit farfetched, this is just what they are working on. Started with a cashew extract (oil), researchers are treating the proteins found in the oil with heat and sodium sulfite. You may recognize sodium sulfite, as it's a preservative commonly found in a variety of foods. What this process does is change the molecular look of reaction-causing protein in the cashew, making it more difficult for immunoglobin (IgE – the antibody that kicks off your body's response, aka, allergic reaction) to recognize and bind with the protein.

_Test results showed that when mixing unmodified and modified cashew proteins with the IgE of a nut allergic person, 50% fewer of the IgE molecules bonded with the altered proteins. This is important for a few reasons. Even though this isn't the first experiment to attempt this, it is the first that uses a compound generally regarded as safe (GRAS) to disrupt the protein structure of the allergen. It is also important because unlike other treatments, it is aimed at treating the food, not the person. Lastly, its success shows the potential for reducing or possibly even eliminating the binding of IgE to food allergens, the root of the allergic response.

For now results show a allergy-reduced nut, which isn't as helpful a non-allergenic one. However, these results at least point towards the possibility of this as a solution. What's up next for researchers? Modifying whole cashews then ensuring the cashews still taste they way they should! Until then, avoidance remains the best option for most dealing with severe food allergies.

To read the full abstract of the research.

For more information on food allergies.

Author: K. Gilmore

3 thoughts on “Allergy-Free Nuts? Maybe Not As Far Off As You Think

  1. Jeff Ibitz August 23, 2014 / 11:07 am


  2. KevvyG August 25, 2014 / 3:10 pm

    Great point Mary! I would agree that there is potential there for that problem. The only thing I could say to counter that would be to look at the numbers. Sulfite sensitivities or allergies effect about 1% of the population while food allergies effect 5-6%. It's difficult to parse out nut specific date, but the estimates are slightly higher than sulfites and come in around 1-2%. The thing to note with this research is that they were actually able to use a GRAS compound to change the protein in the cashews. So there is the possibility that if they could get sodium sulfite to work, there may be other compounds that do not carry the allergen potential that could be used instead. Besides, as it stands right now, a less allergenic nut, isn't very helpful to someone with severe nut allergies!

  3. Mary August 25, 2014 / 2:49 pm

    I think this is an interesting idea but, what about the person who is also allergic to sulfites? Are we exchanging one problem for another?

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