Why are there sulfites in wine?

Why are there sulfites in wine

While drinking wine or cider, you may have noticed on the label of the bottle that it says “contains sulphites”. The idea of ​​adding it to wine dates back several centuries. But what are sulfites? And are they dangerous for health?

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It is believed that the Romans were the first to have the idea: they discovered that by burning candles in the sulfur in empty bottles, the wine that you put in afterwards had less tendency to turn and take on the taste and smell of vinegar. This process was effective because the combustion sulfur produces sulfur dioxide gas. Later, adding sulfur dioxide to wine became a common practice in Middle Ages.

Sulfur dioxide as a preservative has several advantages: firstly, it is a antioxidant which slows down the rate of oxidation reactions. In wine, it prevents the oxidation of certain organic compounds, thus preserving the color and fragrance of the wine. It is also an antimicrobial, very important in wine and other drinks in which it is added, as it prevents the growth of mold and mildew. bacteria toxic.

Are sulfites dangerous for health?

Today, sulfur dioxide is added directly to alcoholic beverages, in the form of sulphites. The most frequently used compound is metabisulphite sodium, but potassium metabisulphite is also used. When mixed with water, these compounds produce sulfur dioxide, which can then act in the drink as we have just seen. We are talking about sulphites in alcoholic beverages here, but they also have many applications in other foodstuffs: they are used, for example, as preservatives in dried fruit and meats.

In fact, the molds found in wine and beer naturally produce sulfur dioxide themselves, but more must be added to achieve optimum concentration. One should therefore not be concerned about the presence of sulphites in drinks and food, although some cases of sensitivity have been observed in asthmatics. It is estimated that between 3 and 10% of them can develop certain reactions, ranging from symptoms moderate to asthma attacks more serious. For these people, the only solution is to avoid products rich in sulphites.

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