Food & Drink

Parents of toddlers are on the search for Bamba

Bamba peanut snacks are available at a couple of places in Charlotte for 89 to 99 cents for a 1-ounce bag.
Bamba peanut snacks are available at a couple of places in Charlotte for 89 to 99 cents for a 1-ounce bag. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

It has the texture of a Styrofoam packing peanut. It tastes a little like a peanut-flavored cheese doodle without the cheese – and without all that messy orange stuff on your fingers.

And strangely, it’s becoming a hot food find at places like Gleiberman’s Kosher Mart in Charlotte and a few supermarkets in the area that stock kosher foods.

Sure, it’s kind of tasty – it’s a peanut-flavored doodle. But for some parents of small children, it’s a lot bigger than just a snack: Bamba peanut snacks, made by the Israeli company Osem, may save some children from a lifetime of peanut allergies.

“I tell parents, if they can find it easily, they can use it,” says Dr. Vandana Patel, a Charlotte pediatrician who specializes in allergies. “Bamba is a nice, easy, portable, fun, chewy way to feed this thing.”

Bamba is a part of the latest finding on peanut allergies. After studies showed that children in Israel have far lower rates of peanut allergies than children in other countries, researchers began to look for what was causing the difference.

“We’ve been seeing it for years,” Patel says. “But I don’t think any of us knew why.”

Apparently, it may be early and regular exposure to a small amount of peanuts, and that may have been coming from a popular children’s snack, Bamba. Earlier this month, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases issued a new set of guidelines based on the LEAP study, “Learning Early About Peanut Allergy.”

Under the NIAID guidelines, children should be tested early for allergies, at around 6 months old. If a baby shows signs of allergies, particularly excema or egg allergies, there’s a higher chance the child will become allergic to peanuts as well. Peanut allergy reactions can be severe and even life-threatening, and they don’t go away in adulthood.

“We think there’s this magical time between 6 and 12 months where we might have this time (to stop it),” says Patel.

The problem is getting peanuts into a baby who has barely started solid foods. They can choke or gag on peanut butter unless you thin it out. Doing that regularly – and it may take daily exposure to small amounts – can be difficult.

That’s where Bamba comes in. In Israel, it’s used like a teething food. Kids can gum it, and the light, porous texture makes it dissolve easily, so they ingest some of it.

Finding it in Charlotte, though, can be been tricky. Jessica Sheena of Fort Mill has three sons, two of them with food allergies. Her oldest, 6-year-old Brody, is allergic to tree nuts, like pecans and walnuts, but not peanuts. Her youngest, 20-month-old Parker, though, was found to be allergic to eggs and dairy products when he was 9 months old, putting him at risk of developing a peanut allergy.

“We’ve been using Bamba since then,” she said. “Our allergist told us he has a much higher likelihood. So she wants him to stay exposed every day.”

For a little while, she could find Bamba at Publix, but they stopped carrying it. So she’s been going online to Amazon, where a 24-bag order is $26.94.

“It’s not expensive, but it’s inconvenient,” she said. She was thrilled when she found out that Kosher Mart, 5668 International Drive, off Providence Road, stocks Bamba in large and small bags.

Jeff Gleiberman, the owner of Kosher Mart, says he’s carried it for years. In Israel, he says, everyone feeds Bamba to their kids. It’s 89 cents for 1-ounce bags, while 3.5-ounce bags are $2.99 but they’re currently out of stock. Gleiberman says it’s so popular, he’s having to reorder it almost every week.

We also found 1-ounce bags for 99 cents at the Harris Teeter in the Cotswold Shopping Center, although not all stores in the chain have it. Make sure you’re looking in the right place: It’s not with the snack foods, it’s with the kosher foods.

One wrinkle with Bamba is that if you have an older child with a peanut allergy, you have to be careful when you expose a younger sibling to it. Patel says it’s crunchy and crumbly, so it can create peanut dust. She tells parents who are trying to dose a younger child to wait until the older child is away and make sure you wipe down the high chair well afterward.

Sheena says Brody is already a Bamba fan.

“He loves it, thankfully. I didn’t know how I was going to get him to eat that much peanut butter every day. Thankfully, Bamba is like a perfect snack for a toddler.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis

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