There is little knowledge about the factors that determine the allergenicity of food proteins. One aspect that remains to be elucidated is the effect of the food matrix on immune responses to food proteins. To study the intrinsic immunogenicity of allergens and the influence of the food matrix, purified peanut allergens (Ara h 1, Ara h 2, Ara h 3 or Ara h 6) and a whole peanut extract (PE) were tested in the popliteal lymph node assay (PLNA) and in an oral model of peanut hypersensitivity. In the PLNA, peanut proteins were injected into the hind footpad of BALB/ c mice; in the oral exposure experiments C3H/HeOuJ mice were gavaged weekly with PE or allergens in the presence of cholera toxin (CT). Upon footpad injection, none of the allergens induced significant immune activation. In contrast, PE induced an increase in cell number, cytokine production, and activation of antigen-presenting cells. Furthermore, the presence of a food matrix enhanced the immune response to the individual allergens. Oral exposure to the purified allergens in the presence of CT induced specific IgE responses, irrespective of the presence of a food matrix. These results suggest that purified peanut allergens possess little intrinsic immune-stimulating capacity in contrast to a whole PE. Moreover, the data indicate that the food matrix can influence responses to individual proteins and, therefore, the food matrix must be taken into account when developing models for allergenic potential assessment. © The Author 2005. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society of Toxicology. All rights reserved.