I am no stranger to adjusting my cooking to avoid certain allergens. Milk protein, chickpeas, sesame, peas and nuts can all cause problems for various members of my family, potentially turning a nice meal into a panicked whirlwind of swelling, hives, wheezing and syringes of anti-histamine. However, when I needed to cook a meal suitable for someone with sulphite intolerance, I found I was completely unprepared. It seems there are sulphites in practically everything!
Fairly common ingredients that you might use in your cooking without thought – garlic, lemon juice, stock cubes, dried herbs, shop-bought bread, balsamic vinegar – can all potentially cause major issues for someone with a sulphite intolerance. I do not claim to now be an expert, but the following is what I have been able to learn so far about this food intolerance.
What are sulphites?
Sulphites are preservatives that are commonly used in processed foods to prolong shelf-life. For example, you will often see sulphur dioxide listed as an ingredient on a packet of dried apricots or other dried fruits. Sulphites aren’t always highlighted as clearly on labels as common allergens like milk or wheat. So, these are some of the ingredients you will need to check for on a packet in order to see if it contains sulphites.
- Sulphur dioxide
- Sulphurous acid
- Calcium sulphite
- Calcium bisulphite
- Sodium sulphite
- Sodium bisulphite
- Sodium metabisulfite
- Sodium dithionate
- Potassium metabisulfite
- Potassium bisulphite
- Potassium sulphite
However, even if you don’t see any of the above listed as added ingredients, there are many foods that may still contain sulphites, and need to be avoided.
What foods and ingredients typically contain sulphites?
Any foods that have been processed in some way are likely to contain some sulphites.
- Dried fruits
- Vinegars e.g. balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar
- Ready-meals e.g. pizza, microwave meals
- Wine and beer
- Cordials, fruit juice, soft drinks, vegetable juice
- Tea and herbal tea
- Bottles of lemon juice, maple syrup,
- Jars of pickle, pickles, or pickled vegetables e.g. sauerkraut, chutney
- Preserved fruits e.g. jams, maraschino cherries,
- Pre-prepared bakery goods e.g. bread, pies, pizza bases, prepared dough, biscuits, cookies, crackers
- Pre-prepared sauces, gravies, and salad dressings
- Canned vegetables and fruit
- Frozen vegetables and fruit
- Crisps, or potato chips, trail mix,
- Packets of grated or sliced cheese
- Packets of prepared potatoes e.g. frozen chips/French fries
- Deli meats, sausages, bacon, and mince meat
- Dried soup mixes, dried noodles
Sulphites can also occur naturally in certain foods, meaning that there are ingredients that need to be avoided in a sulphite-free diet that are fresh and unprocessed.
- Fresh grapes
- Fish and seafood e.g. shrimp, lobster, scallops, salmon
As with other allergies, the seriousness of the reaction someone may have to sulphites varies. The concentration of sulphites within the food or ingredient may also be relevant. Some people may have a reaction to the sulphites in wine or vinegar, but are fine with fresh garlic. Obviously it is best to check with anyone you are cooking for so you are sure you know what they can and can’t tolerate.
How should I adjust my cooking to avoid sulphites?
Remember that sulphites are not harmful unless you have an intolerance to them. Generally, cooking from fresh ingredients is best so that you don’t accidentally introduce sulphites to your cooking. Whilst bottled juices and dried herbs may be problematic, you can still introduce lots of flavour to your cooking by using fresh herbs and buying fruit that you juice yourself. If you have time to make your own stocks, there are lots of soups and stews you could make to serve with rice or potatoes.
Do you have sulphite intolerance?
Please leave comments if you have further ideas or information to share. If you avoid sulphites, what recipes do you cook regularly? What adjustments do you wish friends and family would make to ensure you can enjoy what’s on the table too? The recipe below is hopefully something that will be a delicious meal for anyone, but I have sought to make it suitable for those who need to avoid sulphites.
Sulphite-free Spanish Omelette
Serves: 2 hungry people, or 2 and a child’s portion
Time: 30 mins
260g potatoes (approx 4 egg-sized potatoes or 10 new potatoes)
1 pepper (any colour)
65g hard cheese grated (N.B. To ensure the cheese is sulphite-free, don’t buy pre-grated cheese)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
- Chop the potatoes into pieces (new potatoes in half, egg-sized potatoes into roughly 6-8 pieces per potato) and cook in simmering water until soft (roughly 15-20 minutes).
- Meanwhile, chop the pepper into squares or strips and fry in olive oil until soft and a little brown in places (about 10 minutes)
- Crack the eggs into a bowl and lightly whisk together. Add the butter and some salt and pepper as seasoning.
- When the potatoes are soft, drain them, and add them to the frying pan with the peppers.
- Turn on the grill to a high setting.
- Pour the egg mixture over the top of the peppers and tomatoes and cook for about 4-5 minutes.
- Sprinkle the cheese over the top, and then move the frying pan under the grill to cook the top. (I don’t think my frying pan handle is particularly heat-proof, so I just have it completely sticking out of the grill with most of the pan comfortably under).
- When done, the omelette will look lightly brown over the top with nicely bubbling cheese.