The most common place sulfites (sulphites) are found is in wine.
Commercial wine making is dependent on sulfites to keep wine from spoiling as the result of bacterial contamination.
Why are Sulfites Used in Wine?
Closely related sulfur dioxide is first added to the wine as a finishing agent. It preserves the wine and then acts as an antioxidant, which keeps the wine from turning to a brown color.
In addition, sulfites are added to the wine when it’s bottled to further prevent spoilage from bacteria that may be in the bottles. Without sulfites wine can easily spoil.
Sometimes Potassium sorbate can be used instead of sulfites, but under certain conditions it can produce unfavorable byproducts.
Wine is such a big part of the many social cultures of the world and there are options for those that are sensitive to the sulfites wine contains.
People with mild reactions may do well by taking an antihistamine a couple hours prior to drinking wine.
People prone to asthma can especially have problems since the sulfites in wine have been known to trigger asthma attacks. Asthmatics should either drink little wine or choose only low sulfite varieties.
People with more severe reactions to sulfites may need to give up wine or switch to the few low-sulfite or sulfite-free wines that are available.
In order to help those with sulfite allergies, we have compiled an ongoing list of low-sulfite wines as well as sulfite-free wines to try.
Also, note that most of the time white wines contain more sulfites than red wines do.
While organic wines are gaining popularity around the world it’s important to understand that organic wines can contain sulfites.
While the USDA has determined that organic wine can only contain naturally occurring sulfites (10 parts per million), the EU still allows organic labeled wine to contain sulfites up to 100-150 parts per million depending on the variety.
While there are some organic wines that could be sulfite-free, in general, most wines labeled as organic will still contain them.
Therefore, there really isn’t 100% sulfite-free wine, but only low-sulfite wine. However, choosing wine that has no added sulfites can make a big difference in your ability to drink wine without having a reaction.
- Scampicchio, M., Lawrence, N. S., Arecchi, A., & Mannino, S. (2008). Determination of sulfite in wine by linear sweep voltammetry. Electroanalysis, 20(4), 444-447. link
- Vally, H., & Thompson, P. J. (2001). Role of sulfite additives in wine induced asthma: single dose and cumulative dose studies. Thorax, 56(10), 763-769. link
- Gardner, N., Rodrigue, N. A. T. A. L. I. E., & Champagne, C. P. (1993). Combined effects of sulfites, temperature, and agitation time on production of glycerol in grape juice by Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Applied and environmental microbiology, 59(7), 2022-2028. link