Almond is consumed worldwide and renowned as a valuable healthy food. Despite this, it is also a potent source of allergenic proteins that can trigger several mild to life-threatening immunoreactions. Food processing proved to alter biochemical characteristics of proteins, thus affecting the respective allergenicity. In this paper, we investigated the effect of autoclaving, preceded or not by a hydration step, on the biochemical and immunological properties of almond proteins. Any variation in the stability and immunoreactivity of almond proteins extracted from the treated materials were evaluated by total protein quantification, Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA), and protein profiling by electrophoresis-based separation (SDS-PAGE). The sole autoclaving applied was found to weakly affect almond protein stability, despite what was observed when hydration preceded autoclaving, which resulted in a loss of approximately 70% of total protein content compared to untreated samples, and a remarkable reduction of the final immunoreactivity. The final SDS-PAGE protein pattern recorded for hydrated and autoclaved almonds disclosed significant changes. In addition, the same samples were further submitted to human-simulated gastro-intestinal (GI) digestion to evaluate potential changes induced by these processing methods on allergen digestibility. Digestion products were identified by High Pressure Liquid Chromatography-High Resolution Tandem Mass Spectrometry (HPLC-HRMS/MS) analysis followed by software-based data mining, and complementary information was provided by analyzing the proteolytic fragments lower than 6 kDa in size. The autoclave-based treatment was found not to alter the allergen digestibility, whereas an increased susceptibility to proteolytic action of digestive enzymes was observed in almonds subjected to autoclaving of prehydrated almond kernels. Finally, the residual immunoreactivity of the GI-resistant peptides was in-silico investigated by bioinformatic tools. Results obtained confirm that by adopting both approaches, no epitopes associated with known allergens survived, thus demonstrating the potential effectiveness of these treatments to reduce almond allergenicity.
Keywords: High Resolution Mass Spectrometry (HR-MS), immunoreactivity reduction; almond; autoclave; food allergens; in vitro digestion; thermal/pressure treatment.