While there is growing awareness of the importance of food allergies, the fourth ranking world health problem according to the World Health Organisation, many ingredient sectors are concerned that a great deal of misunderstanding surrounds the actual occurrence of allergic reactions.
The lupin sector is no different. As a result, France-based ingredients giant Terrena group decided to finance a thesis put together between 2002 and 2005, which was defended at the end of last year at INA-PG by Romy Fischer.
"For us the allergy subject is a major concern, which has to be treated seriously and not only as 'business' for allergy detection kits suppliers," Claudie Augereau, sales and product manager for the Terrena Group told FoodNavigator.
"We often offered our help to famous doctors and discovered the dramatic lack of knowledge on lupin, a natural vegetable protein."
The average protein content of lupin is just over 30 per cent, compared with 44 to 48 per cent in soybeans, and is gradually being used in food formulations to replace soya flour in speciality bakery and pasta products. The flour, produced from the grain legume Lupinus angustifolius L. can also replace eggs and butter to enhance colour.
For these reasons, lupin-based ingredients are widely used in the food industry. However, there has been a growing amount of research suggesting that the flour could pose a risk to consumers with food allergies, notably peanuts.
Researchers in the UK recently cautioned that people with peanut allergy - about 1 per cent of the UK population - should avoid any products containing it until they have another allergy test.
But Terrena argues that the actual incidence rate of allergic reactions is very low, considering the widespread use of the ingredient. Citing Fischer's thesis, Terrena said that some 15,000 tons of lupin-based ingredients are sold in Europe per year for use in human food.
In addition, 500,000 tonnes of food products consumed per year in Europe contain lupin. Terrena argues therefore that the number of allergy cases actually attributed to lupin must be looked at in connection with the number of consumers in Europe.
The conclusion drawn therefore is that the number of reported cases of lupin allergy seems relatively low compared to the number of food portions containing lupin available on the market, and the length of time lupin ingredients have been on the market - since the early 90s.
"To our knowledge, no objective figures are available on the prevalence of lupin allergy, because to date no reliable studies have been conducted on the subject," said the group.
"All of the discussions always refer to the same rare, isolated case reports, on the basis of which it would be unreasonable to state that the risk is widespread. Some of the case reports were validated by a simple prick-test, which is absolutely not proof of allergic reaction."
The group also cited a market study that was recently conducted on the availability of lupin-based ingredients, their use in human foods and their consumption in Europe. The results of the survey conducted by Alcimed demonstrated that lupin ingredients have been commonly found in the European diet for at least 15 years.