Are Sulfites In Wine Anything To Worry About?

Glasses of red, white, and rose
Glasses of red, white, and rose - Phill Thornton/Getty Images

Whether you're drinking red or white, a great glass of wine can truly make or break a lot of meals, and knowing what type to pair with what foods is taken so seriously that there's an entire job for it (this is what sommeliers do). It's one of the oldest beverages in human history, possibly dating back to Georgia (the country, not the state) in 6000 BCE. It's useful not just for drinking but as a cooking component as well. And while drinking too much alcohol is never good for you, there have been some studies (albeit not conclusive ones) that red wine can be good for heart health. But there's another thing people often cite as a concern when it comes to wine: sulfites.

But should people be concerned about sulfites? Are they really dangerous for your health? The truth is actually much more complicated than just saying, "Sulfites are bad." The truth is, whether sulfites are something you should avoid comes down to each person and how they react to them.

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What Even Are Sulfites?

glass of wine swirled
glass of wine swirled - StockLite/Shutterstock

Sulfites are somehow both a natural and unnatural component of wine. All wine produces some sulfites during fermentation, and sulfites have been a food additive for centuries, but their use has changed over time. Starting in the 1800s, winemakers began adding significant amounts of sulfur dioxide for a variety of reasons: It protects against unsightly color changes (we still use it now in shellfish for this purpose), it helps yeast ferment more effectively, it prevents the growth of microorganisms, and it can even boost the wine's taste. So then, why do people have issues with sulfites?

Mainly because people blame them for all sorts of things for which they probably aren't responsible. Most commonly, people credit sulfites with causing wine headaches and particularly bad hangovers, mainly when they drink red wine. There's just one problem with this hypothesis: White wine contains more sulfites than red, so these headaches are unlikely to be caused by sulfites. So that means sulfites are totally safe, right? Not so fast. It really depends on the person.

A Small Percentage Of The Population Reacts Very Badly To Sulfites

glasses of white wine
glasses of white wine - Markswallow/Getty Images

For most people, sulfites are harmless; they're a long-established food additive that makes wine taste and look better. A small percentage of the population -- perhaps 1% overall -- has an extremely adverse reaction to them. There's a type of asthma called sulfite-sensitive asthma that will typically bring on a respiratory reaction within 15 minutes of ingesting sulfites, and respiratory reactions are never something to be taken lightly, considering how easy it is to die from them. Other symptoms of the sulfite-sensitive can include hives, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

The good news is, this doesn't affect most people; if you drink wine and have a headache a few hours later, it's not the sulfites to blame. If you're particularly concerned, though, the good news is you can find wine with low levels of sulfites (though, again, there will always be small amounts present). Wine with more than 10 parts per million of sulfites is required to be labeled that way in America, so look for a wine that doesn't include that label.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.