You’re drinking a glass of your favorite wine then suddenly your nose is blocked.
Feels like hayfever, doesn’t it?
Crap, now you’re scratching at your skin and notice a rash.
Soon you’re coughing or wheezing or having difficulty breathing.
This example gives wine a bad rap but it’s not as bad as we might think. Do you ever experience these symptoms when you’re NOT drinking wine. Take note of those times and what you had been eating.
What is in the wine that could cause this? A not-so-recent post, Part 1 – The Sweet Factor, tackled the possibility of the sugar content contributing to headaches. If the solutions in that post did not help your case, Part 2 may help you determine if it is the sulphites disturbing your system.
There is a simple test to determine if you are sensitive or allergic but, sadly, it does not involve drinking a glass of wine.
What Are Sulphites?
Sulphites are inorganic salts that are found in the ground. There is a small percentage of the world’s population that is allergic to sulphites while many people just have an intolerance to it. Neither case is pleasant. Believe me, because I experience mild effects at times to sulphites. And probably more often than I realize.
Preservatives, such as Sulphites, are a natural part of grape skins. But why?
Are they seeping into grapevines from the ground?
They occur naturally during the fermentation process due to the yeast activity so it really is hard to find a wine without it.
Some producers do add sulphites, to protect their wine from oxidization, even though it might only be a small amount. These are the ones you may have to steer clear of to keep your intake to a minimum.
Sulphites don’t cause headaches (it’s the sugar content, remember?) but can bring on an attack for those with asthma, or induce asthma-related symptoms.
Now, take a look at the back of your wine bottle. It likely says “Contains Sulphites”. Unfortunately, there is no indication of whether these sulphites are the natural occurring ones or the chemically added ones. It just means there is enough in there to have to put it on the label, by law.
So, if you plan on avoiding them, put it back on the shelf and head to the organic section. Or check the list below for some known Biodynamic / Organic producers who do not add any chemical sulphites.
Here, amongst the natural and organic wines, is where you may find less sulphites. But not guaranteed. Since sulphites are an organic compound, it falls under the “organic” classification so they are obviously allowed in organic wines. The total amount of sulphites should, however, be lower than some of the other normal wines. A little research on a favorite bottle beforehand could help as well.
When And How Is Sulphur Chemically Added?
♦During harvest, sulphur in the form of metabisulfite is sprayed on grapes to prevent oxidization as soon as the grapes are picked. Otherwise, the grapes might begin rotting by the time they are brought inside to the vats.
♦Before wine enters the oak barrel, vintners burn sulphur inside of each barrel which seals the wood so it is leak-proof. At the same time, it creates Sulphur Dioxide, aka SO2 (the gas form).
♦Fermentation creates sulphur naturally so when the winemaker wants to stop the fermentation process, he will add the chemical version of sulphur.
Natural wines are supposedly sulphur-free (but we know this is not really the case) so he must wait for the natural fermentation process to finish.
♦Aging process in oak – as mentioned above, sulphur is burned inside the barrels so it contributes extra sulphites to the finished product. With the wine now in the barrel, some producers might add sulphur chips which are burned inside to preserve the wine and add flavour. This also creates tannins within the wine.
♦Bottling – there is rumour that the bottles are rinsed with sulphites. The answer to this is very hard to find and will take some actual foot work to determine. This will take up a full blog on its own.
Most wines with added sulfites contain only 20-350 Parts Per Million. Ppm is the equivalent of milligrams per litre, ie: 20ppm=20mg/L.
The legal limit in wine is 350 ppm.
Benefits -Are There Any?
SO2 will ‘eat up’ any oxygen in its path. Oxygen is the chemical that will destroy your wine, like it destroys your fruit – think of the apple you cut and 2 minutes later, it is browning. In this way, SO2 is helpful.
Bacteria and germs don’t like SO2 nearby – they can’t develop in it’s presence.
Thus, SO2 prevents the wine from continuing it’s ‘rotting’ process into vinegar.
Wine is NOT the only culprit. The amount in wine is really not that alarming. Below is a list of items that contain sulphur. Beware, it is a LONG list with many of your favorite foods.
If a food contains more than 10ppm, the label must contain the warning.
As mentioned, these sulphites can cause allergic reactions which can resemble hayfever. In more extreme, perhaps rare cases, it may cause hives, difficulty breathing or swallowing, cramps, low blood pressure, flushed or swelling skin, stomach pain, diarrhea and if your allergy is serious, anaphylactic shock.
Your list of what to avoid if you are keeping sulphites to a minimum:
Dried fruit is #1 – for example, raisins and prunes contain anywhere from 500 to 2,000 ppm! A heck of alot more than the max 350 in wine.
This is where the simple test comes in….eat about 4 dried apricots. Now pay attention to your breathing. Has it changed? Are you wheezing at all? If you are, you might be sensitive to sulphites. This does not mean you are sensitive to wine. Just the sulphites. If you are getting a headache, it could be something else you are sensitive to….the sugar perhaps…histamines? (this will be in Part 3 of this series) …or you’re dehydrating. Are you drinking a glass of water with your wine?
…..now, back to the list.
Wine – as you now know contains between 20 and 350ppm.
Beer and hard ciders.
Tea and juice.
Jam and fruit-flavoured breakfasts such as Toaster Strudels.
Salad dressings and condiments.
Molasses and gravy.
Dried soup mixes.
Canned and frozen vegetables and fruit.
Shrimp – it is used to avoid the black spots.
Processed and Deli Meat, especially sausages.
Bread Dough – it is used as a conditioner.
Cookies, ice cream and yogurt – yup, all the good stuff!
Some pharmaceuticals – to preserve medications.
Interesting to note: The human body produces 1,000 ppm of sulphites.
The closest information I found on the suggested recommended daily intake is 19% of a man’s total dietery intake and 17% of women’s.
Some studies are finding that the levels in young children are quite high and suggest the reason is the processed and packaged foods packed in their lunches. Those dried fruit packets are a favorite – it’s also #1 with the highest levels of sulphites. Moms, can we dial it back a little?
It’s no wonder that ADD and ADHD manifested during the generation that introduced processed foods.
The food industry has a lot more leeway than the alcohol production industry, right?
The US FDA states the food packaging must contain the label “contains sulphites” if the food contains 10ppm or more.
Every country will mandate it’s own specific amount that must be labelled.
To combat this, choose natural and or organic foods that do not contain preservatives. Your local health food store might be a good place to start looking.
If after you’ve read the food label, there is no ‘Contains Sulphites’ warning, don’t stop there. Read the ingredients. It could be hidden and referred to as:
Sulphites under 10 ppm in the US do not have to be listed but they will all contribute to your sulphite intake. -The Food Intolerance Network
For example, pizza crust. Your neighborhood Pizza Pizza may not display the content level because it is below 10ppm but it doesn’t mean it’s not there. They are not required to list it unless the level is higher than 10ppm.
My 11-year-old grandson has suffered asthma from about the age of 2 and I often wonder if sudden bouts are related to food. My belief in this is much stronger now due to the research I have put in to this article.
I have also dealt with food sensitivities for years and have learned tonnes of information on how processed food affects us.
Eliminating gluten from my diet has helped but does this mean I have to forever live without a delicious sourdough bowl of clam chowder?
I put it to the test and bought a freshly made sourdough loaf from my local bakery. I expect there would be less preservatives in this. The result? No pains in my stomach.
Maybe it’s the sulphites that are packed in the bread, not the gluten, causing problems?
If we re-program ourselves to eat naturally as our forefathers ate, we just might see a huge difference in our health. Which is why I am on a new kick to make my own sourdough bread and see what happens.
Why are some people susceptible to sulphur and others are not?
Some people lack an enzyme that digests and removes sulfites from the body; in other cases, sulfites may cause an immune response. Another theory is that when digesting these foods, the stomach may produce sulfur dioxide, and inhaling this gas causes adverse effects, -The University of Florida Extension.
Unfortunately, processed food is here to stay because everyone loves it so, for it’s taste and convenience.
It’s an uphill battle but not impossible.
The company, morethanorganic.com, may be able to help:
“We want to give them (unsulphured wines) the publicity they deserve.”
Probably time to get back on track….
Red vs White
There are antioxidants in all grapeskins. Since the skins ferment longer in the production of red wine, reds have higher levels of antioxidants. Producers rely on this and do not have to add as much SO2.
If the vintner can keep the tannin levels up, he will require less chemically added sulphites.
While White wines have antioxidants, the levels are lower since the skins don’t ferment as long. Producers generally have to add sulphur so whites contain higher levels of it.
Wine Producers Who Don’t Add Sulphites
Badger Mountain – Kennewick, WA – “We ensure that our customers are getting chemical-free products by constantly testing the soil, and we send wine samples to a lab for testing before bottling.” – Marlisa Lochrie, Tasting Room Mgr.
Personally, I think sulphites in wine alone is not quite the culprit it is made out to be. Processed food, with the high content, is certainly a concern. Put all of your consumption between food and alcohol together and your intake could be astronomical.
Rule of Thumb I plan to undertake: Minimize my intake of processed food and drinks. Opt for natural….if it is man-made, I’ll avoid it.
For example: Fruit is natural. Fruit juice/snacks are modified by man.
A good read that contains some common sources.
A lot of ground was covered here but I still have one question. If sulphites are a natural salt found in the ground, why is it so bad for us?
Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on April 6, 2018