Go a little nuts

spiced nuts

Millions of people worldwide suffer from nut allergies. These allergies are frequently severe, and they've become so widespread that schools have been forced to change menus (no more PB&J sandwiches) and many airlines have quit offering nuts as snacks. Scientists at the USDA's Agricultural Research Center hope to change all that by creating a hypoallergenic nut.

Molecular biologist Christopher Mattson leads a team of scientists experimenting with ways to reverse the reaction caused when an allergic person comes in contact with nuts. "Many nut allergies are triggered when the immune system recognizes specific proteins in the food and releases the antibody immunoglobulin E (IgE) to latch on to the allergen," causing reactions that range from mild to life-threatening. Mattison determined "that the problem isn't the release of IgE per se, but rather the myriad allergic reactions triggered when it binds to the nut proteins. So he decided to modify the shape of cashew proteins so that IgE wouldn't be able to recognize them."

While they remain a long way from the goal of a hypoallergenic nut, the team's limited success with modifying cashew extract proteins by using a combination of heat and sodium sulfite, a common food preservative, is encouraging. Mattison and his team were able to reduce the binding of allergens by 50% in their latest effort, reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The next step for the scientists is to work on whole cashews instead of cashew extract. After that, they will move on to making sure that the modified nuts taste just as good as the unaltered version so there is no aftertaste.

Photo of Maple-bacon spiced nuts from The Washington Post by Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan

 

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