Sulphite-free: all about sulphur dioxide

Have you heard of a sulphite sensitivity or sulphite allergy? Today’s blog is about a lesser-known reaction to an extremely prevalent ingredient. Sulphite-free living is a challenge…

What does the legislation say?

Sulphur dioxide and sulphites at concentrations of more than 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/litre in terms of the total SO2 which are to be calculated for products as proposed ready for consumption or as reconstituted according to the instructions of the manufacturers;

Annex 2 of Reg 1169/2011

So what are sulphites and sulphur dioxide, and are they different?

Sulphur dioxide and sulphites are usually food and drink additives (otherwise known as E numbers) used as preservatives. But there are naturally occurring sulphites, such as in wine. Outside of the realm of allergies, other legislation limits the total concentration of sulphites in our foods. They’re pretty powerful ingredients: would you want your internal organs ‘preserved’!? Probably not while you’re alive!

What are some of the challenges?

The range of products containing sulphites is large – things like dried fruit, wine, juices and powdered and pickled food. But it depends on manufacturing methods: I’ve found dried fruit which is sulphite-free (or at least, isn’t labelled!). The relative lack of knowledge about sulphite allergies means diagnosis and having people take your allergy seriously can be difficult. I found this article written by a sulphite allergy sufferer to be very informative.


The main area that interested me for the Merry Jelly’s project was alcohol. If we were to run a bar (or serve Prosecco jelly!), we would have to understand sulphite-free wine. After lots of investigation, it seems that wine is never completely sulphite-free, although sometimes can have levels lower than the 10mg/kg limit and therefore doesn’t require the ‘contains sulphites’ label.

However, many organic wine producers are quick to say that ‘natural sulphites are not the problem, it’s just the nasty additives which cause the problem’, implying that wine with no added sulphites is fine, whatever their concetration. Is this true? Calling all sulphite allergy sufferers: please let me know if you’ve tried one of these naturally occurring sulphite wines and found it okay. In general, we remain a little sceptical of anything that claims it can’t be damaging your body if it’s natural (after all, the other 13 allergens are all ‘natural’ and cause some people no end of damage…).

In practical terms, our current policy at the Merry Jelly is to use alcohol that declares itself to be so low in sulphites that it doesn’t require allergen labelling. And, as always, to be as transparent as we can with you, our guests. We would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading this part of my series on the top 14 allergens. To find out what I’ve learnt about the other 13 please head back to the blog series home.

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