Sulfites: Exploring the Facts

As wine becomes the beverage of choice for more and more people, it’s reasonable to want sound information about what we drink. This article will provide information on one of the most debated wine topics – sulfites.

What Are Sulfites?

Sulfites are chemical compounds derived from sulfur dioxide (SO2). These compounds are found in many items people eat and drink, including wine. Common foods that may contain sulfites include dried fruits, pickles, jams, juices, soft drinks, cider, beer, and certain condiments. Surprisingly, a single apricot can hold the same amount of sulfites as an entire bottle of wine!

Why Are there Sulfites in Wine?

Sulfites are often used as a preservative, and are also a natural byproduct of the fermentation process used to make all wines. Some winemakers may choose to add more SO2 to their wines to prevent oxidation, discoloration, and microbial growth. The labels of all wines produced in the United States must state the presence of sulfites in quantities greater than 10 parts per million. Keep in mind that while many wines from other countries also include this information on their labels, some do not.

How Can I Tell if I’m Allergic to Sulfites?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that fewer than 0.5% of the population have a sensitivity to sulfites. A simple test to determine if you’re among this extremely small group is to eat some dried fruit. If you feel fine afterward, you’re in the clear!

Do All Wines Contain Sulfites?

All wines contain at least trace amounts of sulfites, which develop naturally during the winemaking process. Some producers may choose to add more, but others do not. If you’re looking for bottles with lower levels of sulfites, try natural, organic, and biodynamic wines. There are also several products currently available that can reduce the amount of sulfites in wine to varying degrees.

Do Red Wines Contain More Sulfites Than Whites?

Contrary to popular belief, most red wines actually contain a lower concentration of sulfites than whites, since their tannins already act as a natural preservative. However, reds generally contain more alcohol than whites. If you can drink white wines without a problem, you can tolerate sulfites.

Do Sulfites Cause Headaches?

After years of research, a link between sulfites and headaches has not yet been proven. Sulfites occur naturally in grapes and are produced by the fermentation process. They are also present in many other foods and drinks in high quantities, so if you had a sulfite allergy, you would be unable to consume things like beer, dried fruit, or sauerkraut. While sulfite allergies do exist, they are quite severe and are limited to a tiny segment of the population. Contrary to popular belief, there are generally more sulfites in white wine than in red, so if you get more headaches from red wine, it is even more evidence that you do not have a sulfite allergy. For more about sulfites, check out our previous post here.

A Final Note

Many myths have contributed to the public’s perception of sulfites, so we should strive to make well-informed decisions before quickly writing off innocent wines. Most importantly, if you’re unsure which wines will suit you best, don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation with a favorite retailer or restaurateur – they love to help!

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