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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Why use sulfates in wine?
—Rod, Beaumont, Texas
Oh dear. There is so much misinformation out there about sulfites in wine. I recently went over a whole litany of sulfite issues when a reader asked if sulfites could be removed with a coffee filter. (They can't be.) Here's what you need to know: Sulfites are a naturally occurring byproduct of wine and other types of food, some winemakers add additional sulfur dioxide to deter spoilage, and the vast majority of people aren’t sensitive to sulfites.
But you are further confusing the confusion by asking about sulfates, which are different from sulfites. Even though they are both sulfur-based compounds, sulfates are not safe for human consumption. (Years ago someone taught me an easy way to keep them straight: "You might tempt fate if you ingest sulfate."
You may, however, come across sodium lauryl sulfate in your daily life. It’s a strong detergent and in everything from household cleaners to shampoos. In fact, it’s so strong, that some feel it’s too harsh to be used as a body product, which is why Dr. Vinny uses sulfate-free shampoo, to keep my fur from drying out.
That doesn’t mean I’m anti-sulfates. Epsom salts are made of sulfates, and some beermakers use a version of calcium sulfate to correct mineral deficiencies (that same derivative is used as a coagulant in my tofu). But you will not find sulfates in wine.
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