My son's first word was ''Mama.'' His second was ''Bamba.'' It is among his favorite things, right up there with picture books, his blanket and the washing machine. The product was born nearly five decades before he was, when its manufacturer, Osem, swapped out the cheese it had been dusting on its corn puffs for peanut butter, a more kosher-friendly alternative. Quickly it became Israel's national snack; now everyone eats Bamba there, from 9-month-olds — like my son — to 90-year-olds. Osem churns out one million bags a day in a country of eight million people. That's what I hear, at least. I've never been. I first learned of Bamba through a study published in February in The New England Journal of Medicine.
One night last summer, around 3 a.m., I was reading on my iPhone while nursing, and I came across a study led by a pediatric allergy specialist named Gideon Lack. He had noticed that Israeli Jews were much less likely to be plagued by peanut allergies than their British counterparts, and he sought an environmental explanation. It didn't take long for him to land at the high chair. Lack and his colleagues designed a longitudinal study, feeding small amounts of Bamba to babies at high risk for developing an allergy (and none to a control group) from the time they began eating finger foods until they turned 5, ultimately finding that the snack reduced their risk by 81 percent.