Researchers could be a step closer to stocking grocery store shelves with hypoallergenic peanuts and other nut-based products.

North Carolina A&T University is signing an exclusive licensing agreement for a patented process that reduces allergens in peanuts by about 98 percent, a news release reported.

The agreement was signed with  Xemerge, a Toronto-based company that specialized in new food technologies.

"This is one of the best technologies in the food and nutrition space we have seen," Johnny Rodrigues, Chief Commercialization Officer of Xemerge, said in the news release.

"It checks all the boxes: non-GMO, patented, human clinical data, does not change physical characteristics of the peanut along with maintaining the nutrition and functionality needed, ready for industry integration from processing and manufacturing to consumer products," he said.

The process treats roasted peanuts that have been removed from their shells and skins with food-grade enzymes that are often found in food processing. The peanuts are soaked in the enzymatic solution, which reduces the allergen Ara h 1 to undetectable levels and Ara h 2 by up to 98 percent.

After the process the peanuts still look and taste like roasted peanuts.

"Treated peanuts can be used as whole peanuts, in pieces or as flour to make foods containing peanuts safer for many people who are allergic,"  Doctor Jianmei Yu, a food and nutrition researcher in the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, department of family and consumer sciences, said in the news release. 

"Treated peanuts also can be used in immunotherapy," she said. "Under a doctor's supervision, the hypoallergenic peanuts can build up a patient's resistance to the allergens."

Peanuts trigger serious allergic reactions in about 0.9 percent of the U.S. populations; this translates to about 2.8 million people. Those who are highly sensitive to the allergens can develop anaphylaxis or other serious reactions in as little as seconds after ingestion. 

Research funding was provided by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.