January 4, 2019 7:12 am 6 Comments
Are you worried about sulphites in your food? Perhaps you’re trying to make sure the food you eat doesn’t contain any added sulphites? We’re taking a look at this issue today, particularly as it relates to dried fruit.
First of all – what exactly are sulphites?
Sulphites (also known as sulfites) are compounds that contain the sulphite ion. These compounds occur naturally in certain foods and in the human body itself. However, they’re also added to food in various ways, generally as a preservative to prolong shelf life, stop the growth of bacteria and maintain a ‘fresh’ colour.
What’s the problem with added sulphites?
Officially – nothing! Trials and tests have failed to produce any hard and fast evidence that sulphites cause harm to the majority of people. It is accepted that a small number of people have an intolerance to sulphites: they might break out in hives or find themselves coughing if they eat products containing them. Those suffering from asthma may experience more serious issues, but even here, sulphite intolerance is thought to affect only a very small proportion of asthmatics. And while migraine-sufferers are often advised to avoid sulphites, in case they trigger an attack, a link between sulphites and migraines has not been firmly backed up medically either.
Nevertheless, many people are sure that sulphites affect them adversely. Even more people are interested in avoiding unnecessary additives in any form.
Does our dried fruit contain sulphites?
Dried fruit is one of the food products most likely to contain sulphites and to contain them in the highest quantities. Sulphites are added to dried fruit to arrest the process of decay, to extend shelf-life and to capture the bright colour of the fresh fruit. However, not all dried fruit contains sulphites.
Organic fruit is dried without the use of sulphur dioxide and has no sulphites added to it. It may therefore have a slightly shorter shelf-life than non-organic dried fruit – but as we generally sell our organic dried fruit with nine months of shelf-life, you’re unlikely to find this a problem.
Organic dried fruit may also be a different colour to standard dried fruit. Our organic apricots, for example, are a dark orangey-brown, completely different to the bright orange apricots you may be used to. Their colour is different because they’ve been dried without the use of sulphur dioxide. They’ve also got a different taste – much richer and darker. These are grown-up apricots, for people with properly developed taste buds!
Where else might you find sulphites?
Where else might you find sulphites? Wine is a well-known example. Sulphites occur naturally in all wines, where they arrest the process of fermentation and help preserve the product. Without sulphites, grape juice would simply turn into vinegar – not wine.
However, many people feel very strongly that the sulphites in wine (and other alcohol) are responsible for the ill-effects they suffer after drinking. Sulphites in wine are blamed for problems ranging from severe hangovers to a slight feeling of malaise the next day.
Producers of organic wines have not been slow to capitalize on this concern. Organic wines have much lower amounts of sulphites and are now marketed specifically at those who want to drink without suffering for it the next day. This time last year Naturally Good Food partnered up with an amazing organic wine producer – you can read all about it here.
As well as wine, there’s an enormous list of other products that might well contain sulphites. Look out for them in:
- tinned fruit and vegetables
- frozen fruit and vegetables
- fruit and vegetable juices
- dried potato products, including chips
- fruit jams, preserves, pastes and fillings
- pickles, condiments and vinegars
- corn syrup and other sweeteners
- soft drinks
- cereals and crackers
- Deli and processed meats
- ready-made sauces and soups
- noodles and soy products
This list isn’t comprehensive, but it gives an indication of the scale of the problem, if you have an intolerance to sulphites. Read on: we’re going to talk about some alternatives below.
How can you tell if a food contains sulphites?
You can easily tell if a food contains sulphites by looking at the label. EU food labelling law requires pre-packaged food sold in the UK to indicate clearly if there are sulphite levels above 10mg per kg or 10mg per litre. The label may simply state ‘contains sulphites’.
If you’re checking out ingredient lists, look for words containing ‘sulphur’ or ‘sulphite’. You might see the following listed:
- Sulphur dioxide (E220)
- Sodium sulphite (E221)
- Sodium hydrogen sulphite (E222)
- Sodium metabisulphite (E223)
- Potassium metabisulphite (E224)
- Calcium sulphate (E226)
- Calcium hydrogen sulphate (E227)
- Potassium hydrogen sulphate (E228)
As well as:
- Potassium bisulphite
- Sodium bisulphite
- Sodium dithionite
- Caustic sulphite caramel
- Sulphite ammonia caramel
- Sulphurous acid
- Sulfiting or sulphating agents
What are the alternatives?
There are obvious swaps you can make to avoid high levels of sulphites. Firstly, you should avoid heavily processed ready meals altogether. Use fresh fruit and vegetables wherever you can, including in juices – try a squirt of fresh lemon or lime instead of vinegar for a dressing. Use organic cold-pressed oils and organic stocks and gravies to cut down on unusual additives. And, of course, tuck into naturally dark, wonderfully rich, organic dried fruit!
Overall, the easiest way to make sure you’re eating unadulterated food is to eat organic. Organic food, as regulated in this country by the Soil Association, is subject to stringent regulations, governing how it’s grown, processed and preserved. According to the Soil Association, organic growers and processors use less than 25% of the legal maximum of sulphites on their products – where they use any at all. In our opinion, it’s what organic food doesn’t contain – as much as what it does – that makes it taste so good and makes it so good for us.
And finally….what about sulphates?
Those avoiding sulphites often avoid sulphates too. Sulphates are a salt of sulphuric acid and are found in various household products and toiletries (noted in the list of ingredients as SLS or SLES). At Naturally Good Food we stock a range of toiletries from Faith in Nature and Green People, which don’t contain any sulphates. Green People explain why they avoid SLS and SLES in this article here.
Look behind the label
As with virtually any health and food issue, there are competing points of view about sulphites, along with a lack of firm medical evidence and a shortage of easy answers. Nevertheless, we hope this blog has helped outline some of the issues and problems. As a final note, we’d urge you always to look a little more carefully – behind the label, so to speak. A food-producer may readily abandon the use of sulphites if public interest demands it, but the chances are they’ll replace them with something else. In the USA, when sulphites were banned for use on fresh food, there was a marked increase in the use of erythorbic acid as a preservative instead.
Do you have a view on sulphites? Or on sulphates? Get in touch and let us know – use the Comment facility below or make your point on one of our social media platforms.dried fruit, ecover, faith in nature, green people, organic apricots, organic cold-pressed oils, organic currants, organic dried fruit, organic figs, organic gravy, organic prunes, organic raisins, organic stock, organic sultanas, soil association, sulfates, sulfites, sulphates, sulphites
This post was written by Yzanne