A new study published in the Journal of Food Science shows that boiling shrimp for ten minutes may reduce its allergenic properties when compared to those of raw shrimp.

According to the study’s authors, extracts were taken from Litopenaeus vannamei, the most widely cultured shrimp species in the world.  Samples were prepared from both raw and boiled shrimp, in order to evaluate how boiling may alter the allergenicity of L. vannamei.  

The major allergen of shellfish is tropomyosin (TM), for which numerous Immunoglobulin E binding sites have been identified.  Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is a class of antibody that plays an important role in allergies.  IgE cells release powerful chemical mediators, such as histamine and cytokines into the environment, which then cause the characteristic symptoms of allergy.

Boiled shrimp extracts showed lower IgE binding than raw shrimp extracts, which suggests that boiling may alter shrimp extracts in a manner that permits the masking of allergenic epitopes.  An epitope is the portion of a molecule that is recognized by the immune system. This means that masking the allergenic epitopes reduces allergen recognition, and therefore can potentially alter the allergenicity of not only shrimp, but food in general.  This is because cooking processes may destroy existing epitopes on a protein or may generate new ones, as a result of change in protein conformation.

Another finding of the study shows that tropomyosin may be an effective tool in diagnosing shellfish allergies.  

A recent study found that 1 in 50 Americans had a shellfish allergy, which is the number one cause of food allergy in adults in the United States, and is responsible for the majority of emergency department visits related to food allergies.