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Greater accuracy in allergy chocolate testing, study

By Catherine Boal , 02-Oct-2006

Peanut allergy sufferers may soon be able to dig into dark chocolate without fear of hidden nuts, thanks to new research undertaken by US scientists.

The complex structure of dark chocolate has made it difficult for tests to detect the presence of peanut allergens in the past.

But now scientists have discovered a more effective means of guaranteeing the chocolate safe - opening up opportunities for yet more consumers to join the dark chocolate trend.

According to the UK National Health Service, one in every 200 people have a peanut allergy and reactions can range from a rash to anaphylaxic shock, making testing and appropriate labelling crucial to consumers.

With most foods, testing for peanut allergens is a relatively reliable procedure using equipment known as an enzyme-linked immunoabsorbant assay (ELISA).

However in past studies conducted with the ELISA, 25 per cent of dark chocolate samples tested gave false results.

Scientists have since discovered that dark chocolate contains tannin which binds with proteins and renders the detection of allergens in the structure more difficult.

Now an effective means of testing for peanuts has been found, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Described in the journal article, the new technique - using peptide (molecules formed from the linking of amino acids) markers - can more easily identify allergen molecules in concentrations as low as 2 parts per million.

Although the procedure is still at an early stage, the authors of the study believe it could have wider application throughout the food industry in the future.