A 2013 review of allergy research in Asia-Pacific found that the incidence of peanut allergy in Asian countries, from almost no cases in infants in China and Thailand to 0.64% of the infant population in Singapore, is a fraction of that of the United Kingdom, Australia or the United States, where the number of infants with peanut allergies quadrupled in the 13 years to 2010 to 2%.
Still unknown why the West suffers more allergies
Various hypotheses are attributed to this greater tolerance to peanut allergies in Asia, including an increased exposure to pathogens, particularly helminths, in developing countries and rural populations, resulting in the development of regulatory cells that help to reduce allergies.
Also cited is a more prevalent vitamin D deficiency in urban populations in developed countries; and commensal microflora, which have been found to contribute to systemic immune effects and differences in microbiota arising from differences in geographical, dietary, or antibiotic usage that might affect the incidence of allergies.
India is the world’s biggest peanut consumer, having got through 4.2m tonnes in 2014—itself more than 1m up on 2009 figures—according to market research provider Euromonitor International.
With 3.8m tonnes of peanuts consumed, China is second, though this figure is largely static from five years ago. Indonesia is the third-biggest consumer, though the 341,000 tonnes it went through last year is far behind the leaders.
Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan also appear on the list, alongside Brazil in fourth place, and the United States in eighth.
The peanut is the world’s most popular nut variety, with global growth of 14% between 2009 and 2014 to reach over 10bn tonnes over the period.
Overall consumption of nuts is growing, though peanuts are rising fastest, with growth of 9% in 2013-2014.
Packed with protein, appeal to modern trends
According to Euromonitor, much of the reason for this spike in consumption is down to protein levels that are higher than in any other nut or legume, with the exception of soybeans.
Their protein content stands at 26% by weight, compared with 19% for almonds, 15% for walnuts and 23% for lentils.
“Peanuts, despite being maligned for their allergy-causing potential, have been performing steadily. Now it seems that the humble ground nut is destined to enjoy a renaissance, owing to its extraordinarily high protein content,” said Simone Baroke, contributing analyst at Euromonitor.
“Consumers’ hankering after high protein foods, a nutritional attribute that is fast gaining relevancy in weight management, is probably the most dynamic trend currently, besides the all-pervasive drive towards ‘natural’ products.”
On a global level, many health- and environmentally conscious consumers are trying to cut down on meat and dairy, Baroke added.