The Truth About Sulfites in Wine

Why Wine Has Sulfites

Sulfites have been used in winemaking since Roman times when they realized that burning sulfur candles kept their wines from oxidizing and turning to vinegar. While most wines contain a small amount of sulfites, it’s important to note that a few people have sensitive reactions to sulfites and the “contains sulfites” label was introduced to protect them.

Sulfur Dioxide

Almost every bottle of wine has sulfites in it, as naturally occurring byproducts of the fermentation process. Winemakers also add sulfites to kill wild yeasts and prevent the wine from spoiling during fermentation and racking.

Sulfur dioxide is a preservative, so many dried fruits (like apricots) and other foods have sulfites added to them. In general, most people can safely consume sulfites and shouldn’t experience any adverse effects.

Having said that, some people are allergic to sulfites and can have reactions to the compounds. This is why it’s important to read the labels on your food and drink, especially those with a “contains sulfites” warning.

Added Sulfites

Wine sulfites are an antimicrobial agent that keeps bad microbes from ruining wine. It’s also a preservative that helps keep oxidation under control.

Great wine is so much more than its chemical compounds: it’s a living slice of the place it comes from, infused with the yeast and bacteria that have worked so hard to transform it into something unique. That’s why many natural wines don’t add sulfites at all, even though they could.

But sulfites have a bad rap among wine drinkers who think they give them headaches or other unpleasant symptoms. Those people are probably confusing sulfites with sulfur dioxide, the compound that’s been added to most wines since the 1800s. Sulfites are safe for most people, but the Food and Drug Administration requires a “contains sulfites” label because about 1% of the population has a sensitivity to them, causing respiratory, skin or digestive problems.

Low-Sulfite Wines

Sulfites are a necessary ingredient to stabilize wine and prevent spoilage. They are also safe for 99% of the population, although some people are sensitive to sulfites and can suffer from headaches, digestive issues or rashes. Those that are sensitive should consider drinking low-sulfite wines like those produced by Usual Wines.

While sulfites are added to most wines, a great number of natural and organic wines can be found that are lower in sulfites thanks to their tannin content. Red wines in particular can be sulfite-free because the grapes themselves are naturally hardy against bacteria.

Regardless, the sulfites found in most wines are very low compared to other foods, including dried fruits, which can have up to 2000 ppm of sulfites. If you are concerned about sulfites, try checking out the label on your bottle of wine or visiting the producer’s website to learn more. They will have detailed information on the winemaking process and can provide you with a more accurate picture of their sulfite levels.

Health Concerns

Although it is possible to find wine without added sulfites, sulfites are found naturally in all wines as a byproduct of fermentation. Some people who are sensitive to sulfites can experience adverse health effects from ingesting them. If you are sensitive to sulfites, stick with low-sulfite wines like Usual Wines that are made the old-world way, and consume them in small amounts. Sulfites are also present in a variety of foods, including dried apricots, gravies, sauces, pickles, maraschino cherries, salad dressings, maple syrup, biscuits and bread, and jelly and jams.

Drinking a glass of wine with sulfites is not harmful to most people. The only people who need to be concerned are those with a severe sensitivity to sulfites. If you are sensitive to sulfites, look for the “contains sulfites” warning on food labels. A few ounces of dried apricots can contain more than 200mg of sulfites, while a small glass of wine may only have up to 100mg of sulfites.

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