Heroes come in many forms. One of this year’s potential heroes is an agricultural researcher. He’s no Superman or Indiana Jones, but he could save your life if you’re allergic to peanuts. Dr. Mohamed Ahmedna has invented a process to make allergen-free peanuts. Ahmedna is an associate professor of food science at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
Around 1.5 million people in the U.S. are allergic to peanuts. And it’s one of the most dangerous food allergies around. In fact, it can be fatal in many cases. Eighty percent of potentially fatal allergic reactions every year are triggered by peanuts or peanut products.
What is a peanut allergy, exactly? It’s when your body views this legume as an invader. So, anytime that traces of it are detected in the body (or even on or near the body in some cases), the immune system mounts a defensive response. Scientists don’t yet understand why some people’s bodies overreact so much. Normally, your body will have a reaction within minutes after exposure to peanuts or traces of peanut. The symptoms include a flushed appearance, itching, hives; and swelling of the eyes, throat, face, or lips. More serious reactions include shortness of breath, wheezing, low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and loss of consciousness. A severe allergic reaction is called “anaphylaxis.” Anytime a person has an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts or peanut products, emergency medical action is required.
In spite of its dangerous nature to a portion of the population, this legume is an extremely popular food around the world. Peanuts and peanut products are considered a valuable protein source. They are also a source of good fat (monounsaturated fat), as well as vitamins B3 and B1, and magnesium. It’s for this nutritional value, plus its addictive taste and filling nature, that peanut butter is considered essential to many North American families. However, awareness of the peanut allergy has grown. Recent years have seen many food companies attempting to eliminate the danger posed by manufacturing peanut products on the same equipment as other products. Most large companies also label products that might have come in contact with peanuts. But all of this can be very difficult and expensive.
That’s why Ahmedna has been working on his innovative process. He has apparently developed a simple process that can remove the allergy-triggering protein from peanuts. Tests have shown this process to be 100% effective in removing the allergen from whole, roasted peanut kernels. Tests were also done where the processed peanuts were put into contact with the blood from people with severe peanut allergies. There were no allergic reactions.
The food industry is extremely interested in this newest development. (Not a big surprise!) According to Ahmedna, the process does not affect the taste or quality of peanuts. It might even facilitate the overall processing of the nut for food manufacturers. Ahmedna is even working on using the same process to remove allergens from other foods.
So, if this allergen-removing process is adopted by food manufacturers, things could be looking up. People allergic to peanuts won’t be in constant danger from traces in their food or environment. They can live and eat safely and anxiety-free. Companies will no longer have to shell out huge bucks to track peanuts or separate their processing. Good news all around!