The US Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry will be publishing a study next month that describes a new process to greatly reduce allergens in eggs.
The findings could greatly benefit food manufacturers, allowing for the production of safer and more specialised food products for egg allergy sufferers.
In the study, chemists from Germany and Switzerland describe how during "a nine-step process" they exposed raw eggs to a combination of high heat and enzymes to break down their main allergens. The researchers then tested the reduced-allergen egg against blood serum collected from people with an egg allergy.
The study reports that the modified egg product is 100 times less allergenic than raw egg.
In addition, the scientists say that the modified egg does not significantly alter flavour and texture when used in various products.
"With the described process the aim was achieved to generate a product from hen's egg with very low allergenic potential. If eggs are pretreated... allergenicity could be strongly reduced while texturising and taste properties were preserved, from comparison of products such as rice cake or pudding made from either pasteurized egg or the product produced."
Hen's egg is one of the most frequent causes of adverse reactions to food in children, and this may be carried through into adult life. Egg allergies can cause severe stomach aches and rashes. In rare cases, death can occur. As a result, doctors advise those with egg allergies to avoid eggs or egg-based products.
"Major allergenic egg proteins are ovalbumin, conalbumin, ovomucoid and lysozyme. At least 24 antigenic hen's egg components are known. Allergologically significant are mainly the fractions of ovomucoid, ovalbumin, ovotransferrin (respectively, conalbumin) and lysozyme," writes the study. These proteins make up 80 per cent of the total protein content of egg white. The rest are less significant proteins with regard to food allergy.
Hen's egg is used in many food formulations due to its foaming, gelling and emulsifying properties.
The study notes that within the scope of the EU project REDALL (Reduced Allergenicity of Processed Food, QLK1-CT-2002-02687) industrial technologies are being employed and tested to produce preparations using hen's egg which are also accessible to allergic customers.
However, "despite various procedures normally used for food processing, the allergenicity of hen's egg could not be reduced to a level that is suitable for allergic people under preservation of the desired properties (texture and flavour) of hen's egg".
This new study may augur a way forward.