In a previous blog
I explained the use of sulphites and why it is so prolific in wine. It is safe to say that there is no such thing as a wine that is entirely sulphur free but many wine drinkers still hold it responsible for causing headaches and other complaints or just try to avoid it due to misinformation. Coming up are the most common misconceptions about sulphites and wine, their truths and their not-so-truths.
Biodynamic and Organic Wine
Many wine drinkers believe that biodynamic, natural and organic wines are made with the absence of sulphites. It is true there are some that are produced without the addition
of sulphites but as they are produced naturally during the fermentation process no wine is truly sulphur free. Demeter is the organisation in France which certifies a vineyard's biodynamic status and their allowance for sulphur in wine is around half that of the E.U. This shows that addition of sulphites is a perfectly acceptable practice, albeit in smaller quantities.
Sulphites give me a headache
Headaches, a.k.a. a hangover, are generally not caused by sulphites but in fact by the dehydrating effect alcohol has on the brain. Try drinking wine with lower alcohol levels, fewer glasses and make sure you drink enough water.
Wine contains more sulphites than other food & drink
To all intents and purposes sulphites act a preservative and have been used to this effect for centuries. So to think that food and drink other than wine does not need sulphites would be naive. Essentially anything that you want to keep in your fridge or cupboards for more than a couple of days is likely to contain some sort of preservative, natural or otherwise, and in most cases sulphites will be involved. To go through a list of products that contain sulphites would take all day so we'll just consider the main culprits.
One of the attributes of sulphites is that they are a colour fixer. It used to be acceptable to sprinkle red meat with them to make sure it kept looking 'red' and fresh but this is now not allowed. However, products that go in to making certain meat products are allowed to be treated with sulphites prior to being added to the mix. Sausages are one of the worst offenders as the fat, rusk, herbs, mustard etc can all be treated before being made into the sausages.
Fresh soft fruit
If you've ever been Pick Your Own-ing for strawberries or raspberries you'll know that once they're out of the field you are lucky if they keep for a day or two. Soft fruit bought in shops needs to stay fresh and undamaged throughout being picked, packed and distributed. It then has a few days shelf life in the store and a few days life in your fridge. This is all thanks to it being sprinkled with sulphites at all points on its journey. Another good reason why you should always wash fruit.
Dried fruit such as apricots, mango, pineapple and apple are some of the worst foods to eat if you're concerned about consuming sulphites. In order for them to stay looking yellow they are treated with high levels of the stuff, so much so that sulphur dioxide is usually listed within the ingredients. To put it into context a 750ml bottle of white wine is allowed up to 210mg/litre of sulphites.
A 200g bag of apricots can contain 500mg! It may be worthwhile to consider eating organic apricots which look a bit brown and shrivelled as they contain far less.
I'm allergic to sulphites
Some people are susceptible to sulphites and reactions vary from coming out in rash, itching, and breathing difficulties. Sufferers of hayfever and asthma particularly can be affected by sulphites. In wine there are other triggers that people may be allergic to, alcohol for one and histamines, it is made from a plant after all. People who claim to be allergic to sulphites in wine should try one simple trick - eat dried apricots. If they don't react to apricots it is highly unlikely to be the sulphites in the wine they are allergic to.
So, there we have it. Some people are allergic to sulphites and will therefore react to them wherever they are found in abundance, not just in wine. We are more exposed to sulphites in our everyday diets that we are aware of so to blame wine for our complaints is not totally fair. Enjoy it in moderation like everything else.