An apple a day keeps the doctor away? Well, an enzyme naturally found in apples may at least hold the key to a less problematic peanut--which is great news for the more than one million Americans living with peanut allergies.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have discovered that the enzyme responsible for turning apples and other fruits brown when theyre sliced also has the ability to reduce a peanuts allergenic potency.
About 1.5 million people in the United States and many others worldwide suffer from peanut allergies. Nut allergies, like other food allergies, can be life-threatening, so several ARS researchers have been on a quest to find a safer peanut.
Si-Yin Chung, with the agencys Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, La., discovered that the natural fruit enzyme called polyphenol oxidase--or PPO, for short--triggers an interesting chemical reaction when added to extracts from chopped-up peanuts.
Its similar to what happens when a just-cut apple or banana turns brown. The slicing action releases the PPO found in some of the fruits tiny cells, allowing the enzyme to mix freely with compounds in the fruits other cells. Add oxygen from surrounding air, and the result is oxidation--and a rather unappetizing, rust-colored apple.
Peanuts dont contain PPO, but when the enzyme is added to extracts from ground-up peanuts, it also sets off the oxidation process. This oxidation, which yields numerous volatile molecules, causes peanut proteins that were once independent and pure to link up in unusual ways.
The proteins that PPO affects are the same as those that provoke an allergic response in some people. So by shaking up the proteins original structure, the PPO enzyme is also altering their allergenic properties.
Chung cautions that animal studies are needed to truly confirm the enzymes effect on peanuts allergy-causing proteins. He also plans to investigate whether or not PPO affects peanuts flavor and shelf life.
ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.