Fact and Fiction: Sulfites


wine all the time | education tip | sulfites and hangovers?!?

Do you have that friend? The one who’s “allergic” to sulfites? You nod your head politely when they start to tell you about their allergy, but your brain drifts off towards thoughts about The Voice, Candy Crush Saga, or how much you need a glass of wine to survive the conversation.A polite swat to the back of the head might prove useful in this situation.

Though I can’t condone this behavior, in all actuality, your friend might need one. Why? Because chances are, this friend is not actually allergic to sulfites. He/she has probably fallen victim to the sulfite craze which (much akin to the gluten-free craze) has elements of truth, and elements of pure fabrication.

So lets dive in. To begin with, what the hell is a sulfite? You’re gonna need the facts in order to combat the fiction coming from your Sulfite Allergy Friend. A sulfite is simply a chemical compound. S02, to be exact: sulfur dioxide.

Wait, wait! Don’t start having horrific flashbacks to high school chemistry just yet. That is just about as technical as we need to get. Sulfites are added to wine during winemaking (they’re also naturally-occurring in small amounts) and have been for roughly forever. So what do sulfites do?

Sulfites are a preservative. They serve the very crucial function of an antimicrobial and antioxidant. Those are fancy words for “preventing the development of unwanted bacteria and yeasts.” They protect the fruit’s integrity, the life of the wine, and eliminate unwanted browning or discoloration.

If you forget a bottle of wine on the back of your rack for 6 months, do you still want it to taste good? Yes. You can thank sulfites for that. Without them, wine simply can’t survive in the bottle for very long. At least, not as something delicious or potable. But are sulfites “natural?”

In a word, yes. They pretty much are. Adding S02 to wine during winemaking is kinda part of the deal. It is a centuries-old practice. The United States is actually among one of the only countries that requires the “contains sulfites” label.

So, if your sulfite-allergic friend friend insists that during their recent amazing trip to Europe, all the wine was sulfite-free and they never got one headache and OHMYGOSH you HAVE to go to Prague; just smile and nod. That wine had sulfites too.

So what did give this poor friend his or her “sulfite headache?” This is sort of a mystery, and sort of not. The mystery part is why the “red wine headache” affects us some days more than others. When you drink booze of any kind, it dehydrates you. This leads, almost certainly, to a headache. No shit, right?

If you drank just two glasses of wine on a given Tuesday, but hadn’t had a drop of water all day… guess what? You might feel worse the next day than if you drank two whole bottles in a night, but stayed hydrated. Or, your friend could have a histamine intolerance. This is somewhat common, and does lead to unfortunate symptoms like hives, flushing of the face and more. No fun.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there is such a thing as a sulfite allergy. However, if your friend really does have this allergy, there are things far worse than wine that he or she would have to stay away from: dried fruit, any processed food, anything containing gelatin, and so much more! Have fun googling that one.
There. Don’t you feel better now that you’re armed with the facts? Now get to the fun part- drinking!

wine all the time | education tip | sulfites and hangovers

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