Along with alcohol, sulfur is probably the most controversial ingredient in wine. It is often claimed that it causes headaches or is even harmful to health. The opinion that so-called natural wines are free of sulfur and therefore healthier than conventionally pressed wines is just as stubborn.
What many people don’t know is that many foods contain gaseous sulfur dioxide and sulphites, the salts of sulfurous acid, as additives. Due to its growth-inhibiting effect on fungi, bacteria and yeasts, sulfur acts as a preservative.
What is sulfur?
Sulfur is a chemical element and is contained in some amino acids and in all enzymes and proteins that build on them. This makes sulfur a key component of living cells. In the human body, sulfur-containing amino acids are important for healthy muscles, bones, cartilage and tendons.
But there are also people who can have an allergic reaction when they come into contact with sulphur. Depending on the study, one to three percent of the population is spoken. This is also the reason for the warning “contains sulphites” on the wine labels. Incidentally, alcohol and not sulfur are almost always to blame for the headache the day after.
A small amount of sulfur dioxide is added to the vast majority of wines during production to inhibit or kill unwanted bacteria and yeast and to protect the wine from oxidation. Wines without added sulfur dioxide tend to have a shorter shelf life and are more prone to off-flavours.
Natural wines also contain sulphur
The vast majority of natural wines do not contain any sulfur dioxide. However, this does not mean that such wines are completely sulfur-free. The reason: Sulfur dioxide is produced naturally during the alcoholic fermentation of the wine.
Incidentally, the EU maximum values for dry red wines are 150 milligrams of sulfur dioxide per liter, while dry white wines can have up to 200 milligrams. White wines typically require more sulfur dioxide, as red wine grapes naturally have more sulfur.
For comparison: 100 grams of peanuts have almost 400 milligrams of sulfur, 100 grams of fish around 200 to 300 milligrams and 100 grams of eggs almost 180 milligrams of sulfur. A balanced diet for a person weighing around 70 kilograms contains around 1,000 milligrams of sulfur per day.
Sulfur, especially in wine, is wrongly demonized. Even natural wines cannot do without sulfur, even if no sulfur is added to them. The information on the wine bottle is probably important for allergy sufferers, but is negligible for everyone else. And the most important thing at the end: Sulfur is vital for humans, animals and plants.