Allergy study finds a peanut, eats it anyway

It took a while to locate Bamba at the local Walmart. No surprise there. A peanut-flavored snack for infants and toddlers? That would be in the “As If” aisle, with the kiddie caffeine and the diet bacon. In fact, a few one-ounce bags were sitting in the Kosher section a month past their stale date.

The Israeli food manufacturing giant Osem may have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform that situation into a very shiny global sales picture indeed. If they don’t, another company will. Because last Monday, the New England Journal of Medicine released the results of a major study that suggests fighting peanut allergies with … peanuts.

Peanuts are the leading cause of severe allergic reactions, period, with even the merest contact capable of causing the most severe symptoms of all food allergies. Their runaway increase among children over the last couple of decades has baffled and divided the first world like few comparable problems. Whole school boards have been brought down over peanut policy. Growing numbers of African and Asian children are now adding to a population that is highly unlikely to outgrow their allergies to peanut protein. At last, from the maelstrom of theory and opinion around peanut sensitivity, research from King’s College London has yielded results that may illuminate the origins and prevention of all allergies. It has also brought Bamba to new prominence in America.


Could this Israeli peanut snack prevent peanut allergies?


In Israel, Bamba is a household word, bigger than La Bamba and Sol Bamba combined, yet materially a peanut-flavored corn snack the size and shape of a preschooler’s thumb. Blander than a cheese puff and as crunchy and gummable in equal measure, Bamba is given to infants as soon as they can hold one. But unlike many an American baby treat, Bamba continues to appeal all the way through adolescence, which helps explain why that one product has 25 percent of snack-food market share in its home country. Bamba was first distributed to our shores in the mid-90s—the dawn of what some think of as allergy hysteria.

Found a Peanut

Back in London, the King’s College researchers had compared a group of Jewish children in the UK to one in Israel and found that the UK kids’ peanut allergy rate was 10 times greater. What was missing from their diet? Bamba!

In 2006, they began a study called LEAP, for Learning Early About Peanut allergy. It followed 640 babies ages 4-11 months who were considered at risk of developing peanut allergies. One randomly selected group regularly got Bamba or peanut butter (smooth, duh) and the other was kept away from peanuts altogether.

The results were stunning: by the age of 5, more than 17 percent of the non-peanut-eating “bambini” had become allergic versus 3 percent of the other group. Conclusion? Early exposure to peanuts could reduce the risk of allergy by more than 80 percent.

The LEAP study’s findings not only bring hope, they totally trash the last decade of pediatric—and parental—peanut protocol. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, has propounded the zero-peanuts policy for at-risk children up to the age of 3 since 2000. They might have actually increased the risk of incurring allergies—along with that of lawsuits from the peanut allergy gallery.


The weather according to Bamba

Don’t Try this at Home

As exciting as the LEAP findings are, doctors, lawyers, and researchers agree on a measured response: keep calm and wait for guidelines. As always, they counsel, any parent who thinks their child might be at heightened risk of a peanut allergy should consult a doctor. While carefully introducing peanuttiness might help prevent an allergy, no parent should do this without medical guidance. And because of the choking hazard, no child under five should eat a whole nut, period.

Try This, Instead

It is well known in America that to dance the Bamba, you need “una poca de gracia.” To eat the Bamba, however, all you need is a dollar and an opposable thumb. Once new guidelines for preventing allergies hit the market, new peanutty baby products will have to match Bamba’s four-ingredient all-natural profile, its established manufacturing and distribution, and the brand power of this baby in order to compete for the allergy-aware “crunchy parent” dollar.

Even if a product pulls that off, how can it compete with the peanut snack proven to prevent peanut allergies? Most extraordinarily of all from a branding perspective, Bamba stands to be not so much repurposed as medically mandated. When was the last time an ethnic niche snack went prescription? America goniff.

Elaine Evans
Elaine Evans Elaine Evans is thrilled to blog for KaTom, where her work in restaurants, bars, catering, and artisanal food has caught up at last with her career in journalism and public relations writing. Connect with Elaine Evans on Google+