What You Should Know About Wine if You Have Food Allergies

Wine Blog

Oftentimes, I see articles touting wine as a beverage that is safe for those with gluten intolerance and other food allergies, but you may want to read a little further, and if you are extra sensitive to gluten, milk, wheat, shellfish, possibly peanut/nut, and especially eggs, you may want to say nay to that offered glass if you are not aware of what exactly went into that particular wine.

As with everything you do, educate yourself and prepare yourself as much as possible to mitigate any events that will cause a bad night for you or those you love. Well armed with some facts, you will have a great New Year’s Eve.

But first, a little background about your conventional wineries. In America and many other countries, wineries are not held to the same labeling standards as some countries in the European Union (4) as well as food manufacturers to disclose allergenic ingredients used to make or refine their product. Almost all of the top 8 food allergens may be used during the making and refinement of the wine process. Also consider that the various pesticides used on grape crops typically do not get washed off. The pesticide-coated grapes go straight to crushing and processing (5) and thereby make every glass of conventional wine a potential equivalent of glass of wine plus pesticide cocktail. (I find it interesting that moderate wine-drinking is often lauded as a way to decrease cancer risk while this pesticide issue is rarely mentioned).

So, given this information, there is a potential for those with severe food allergies or sensitivities to harsh chemicals to suffer after having a glass of wine and not even know why.

So First, the Bad News  – Reasons That You May Have a Reaction to Wine

1. Wheat flour is often used to seal barrels and a little can get into wine. Also, hydrolyzed wheat gluten isolate may be used as a fining agent. (3) If you have Celiac disease or are extremely sensitive to gluten, you many want to pass on conventional wines and opt for a gluten-free beer (or gluten-free specific wine as mentioned below). Although vintners claim that whatever gluten is left should not be enough to be bothersome, there are no guarantees that the flour is completely removed from the final product. How much is left is not known to the consumer.

If you have your heart set on wine, don’t despair, there are some suggestions below. In the meantime, if you also like beer, here are some recommended gluten-free beers: Red Bridge, New Planet, and NGB brands indicate that they are also vegan. Omission uses traditional ingredients such as malted barley while indicating that they have removed the gluten (PLEASE DON’T CONSUME OMISSION IF YOU ARE VERY SENSITIVE as Barley contains gluten.)

IF YOU CAN TOLERATE 5-20 PPM of GLUTEN: We Insist that you try Omission. It is absolutely amazing!!!

We need more information on Bard’s and Estrella before we can make a recommendation.

glutenfree beers

2. People with migraine triggers, asthma and strong seasonal allergies (especially to mold) may want to stick with the white wines if no other allergies are present. The reason to avoid is that red wines are heavy in sulfites, tannins and histamines (same is true for dark beers) (2). All of these things can trigger a very bad headache, a full migraine episode, and (in some people) flushing, runny nose, swollen mucous membranes and – if allergic to sulfites or extra histamines – a life-threatening anaphylaxis reaction.

3. Conventional wine is not recommended for those with egg allergies. Those with egg allergies should be aware that egg whites (in the form of albumin or pulverized egg shells) are often stirred into the wine so that they will attach to the unpleasant-tasting tannins. This process helps the tannins drop to the bottom of the barrel and makes it easier for the distiller to remove as much of the tannins as possible from the final product. (1) How much of the egg powder that is left in the wine is not known to the consumer.

Also, egg allergy sufferers should be aware that Lysozyme, a substance derived from egg whites, may be used to inhibit lactic acid and bacteria during several stages of the wine-making process. It is typically not removed and remains in the final wine product. (3)

Lastly, egg allergy sufferers may become very sick, particularly from red wine if their allergy is specific to the sulfur in egg yolks. Red wines are very high in sulfites. Most who are allergic to sulfur will also react very negatively to the sulfites in red wine (and also to the sulfites and nitrites in cured meats and dried fruits).

4.  Those with milk allergy may find it important to note that casein is used to remove discoloration in white wines. (1)

5. Those with fish allergy should be aware that isinglass, a compound derived from the bellies of sturgeon fish, is used to refine both beer and wine. (2)

6. Shellfish allergy sufferers: chitin (pronounced “Kite-in”), a substance derived from crustaceans, may be used during the fining process of wine. (2)

7. Gelatin is also used during the fining process of wines. For those who are sensitive to animal proteins, this could pose a problem when consuming conventional wine. (2)

8. Those with peanut allergies that have cross-reaction to pea protein should known that pea protein isolate is sometimes used in the production of wine. But not always. Investigation is needed. (6)

9. Soy protein is sometimes used in the fining process. Ask your vintner if they use plant-derived proteins in fining and which ones. (6)

As with anything in life, risk lies in the unknown.  

We are still a long way from having the information we need at our disposal to make informed choices. Until you know exactly how your wine is made and processed, you take a risk. So, please be careful and do your homework. Hopefully, we’ve done some of the homework for you so that you don’t have to. There is some good news about wine. 

The Good News – Organic, Vegan and Gluten-Free Wines Exist (And So Does Labeling)

Disclaimer: After reading the information below, we recommend that you be extra safe and sure by contacting wine/beer manufacturers to ask about ingredients used during the making and “fining” process. 

1. Explore vegan and gluten-free biodynamic wines (usually in the organic wine section). There are some vintners that have established wine-making practices that are not only better for the earth, but also better for our bodies. They are called biodynamic wines. The grapes for these wines are grown according to organic farming standards that eliminate the use of pesticides and keep the soil and grapes healthy and disease-free using natural methods. Soil is fertilized with compost and manure instead of synthetic chemicals. Crop rotation is also used. Ultimately, with biodynamic wines, the production of wine is equivalent to the old-world wine-production standards we have established in our minds every time we take a sip of the pretty stuff.

Some wineries even go so far as to be certified by a standards organization called Demeter Association, Inc. More information about Demeter can be found by clicking here. (Note that the use of legumes are used to help with crop rotation. I am not sure if that poses a risk to peanut allergy sufferers). Their processing standards are available in pdf format and provide extremely detailed descriptions on what is allowed and what isn’t. The section that is specific to wine begins on page 38 (as of Jan 2014).

Biodynamic does not mean safe from food allergies, but it’s a start. Contact specific vintner for specific substances used. For example: Demeter Association encourages the use of bentonite (a vegan clay substance for binding during the fining process) but will allow organic egg products, some sulfites and some yeast products in the processing of their certified biodynamic wines. So, it depends on the individual producer what specific substances are used. Please call your specific vintner to ask.

As of January 2014, wine that is certified by Demeter may be safe for those with milk, fish and shellfish allergy (Always double check!), as Demeter prohibits the use of enzymes, tannin, casein, silica dioxide, isinglass, blood, gelatin, gum arabic, carbon, or copper sulfate. 

2. If possible, find wine that is biodynamic AND vegan AND gluten-free if you want to avoid all of the top 8 food allergens.

This may be a challenge, but take a close look at some wines from these vintners:

Frey Winery meets all three criteria. It is biodynamic (organic), vegan and gluten-free.

Our Daily Red also meets all three criteria. Organic, vegan and gluten-free. Let this wine breathe for 30 minutes before drinking for optimal taste (we loved it!).

Four Chimneys  A producer of organic wines that do not use animal products in the fining process. It is unknown if these wines are gluten-free. Please call to check.

– Siduri indicates that their Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2012 is vegan and gluten-free. Not organic, biodynamic or sulfite-free, however.

3. The natural wine “experts” will laugh at you if you ask for gluten-free wine. Stump them with the questions below (for which they *should* know the answer!):

If you go into or call a wine store and ask them if they have gluten-free wines, they might laugh in your face and tell you that all wines are gluten-free. Hopefully your wine expert won’t be mean to you like the guy was to me. But I did experience this interaction – so fair warning to you. Just so you know though, if they tell you that all wines are gluten-free, kindly inform that person that they are incorrect. Use it as a teaching opportunity to let them know that some wines are still processed using hydrolyzed wheat gluten isolate during finishing and that some barrels are still sealed with a flour paste that ends up in the wine. While it may not be enough to cause a reaction in many who avoid gluten, this does not mean those who are extremely sensitive won’t have a reaction.

Remember, the medical treatment for Celiac disease is to completely eliminate gluten out of the diet. Even without a strong reaction, consuming gluten can still damage villi in the intestines and block nutrient absorption. Wouldn’t it would be best, especially if one has Celiac disease, to avoid wine where flour and gluten was used in the processing and/or fining? As of right now, acquiring information about whether wine is made without gluten remains the biggest challenge.

Or, if you don’t want to go into all of that, you may get a better response if you ask the over-confidant wine expert these questions:

Question 1: “I’m looking for wine aged in stainless steel casks, can you tell me which ones?”

Question 2: “Which wines were aged in barrels sealed with a flour paste and which ones were aged in barrels sealed with wax?”

Question 3: “Do you know which of your wines were finished with hydrolyzed wheat gluten isolate?”

There now, if they can’t answer you, at least they have some homework to do where they can be more of an expert than they already are (because I guarantee you that it bugs them not to be able to answer specifics). If they ask you why, tell them that you are curious about how gluten finishing substances might affect the flavor of the wine and that you want to make a comparison at a dinner party with friends. They can’t argue with that!

4. Look for European wines that have begun labeling for food allergens. Last bit of good news: Some countries, beginning with 2012 wines, are required to label food allergens. These include Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Canada. Start looking for 2012 wines with these labels to help you decide which wines would be safe for you. (4)

All that said, please be safe, responsible, designate drivers and have a very happy new year!!!

Resources:

1. Multi-allergen quantification of fining-related milk and egg proteins in white wines by high-resolution mass spectrometry. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, Volume 27, Issue 17, 29 JUL 2013

2. Hidden allergens and additives in beer and wine by Drea Knufken, Living Without, Issue July/July 2008

3. Proteomics in Foods, Food Microbiology and Food Safety, Volume 2, 2013, pp 285-304

4. Allergen labeling in wine: compulsory regulations imminent in the European Union – will the U.S. be next? by Bruce E. Copeland, Alison B. Torbitt, Beverage Alcohol Brief, June 26, 2012

5. Influence of the matrix in bioavailability of flufenoxuron, lufenuron, pyriproxyfen and fenoxycard residues in grapes and wine, Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 60, October 2013, Pages 419-423

6. Fining white wine with plant proteins: effects of fining on proanthocyanidins and aroma components, European Food and Research Technology, October 2013

7 Easy Tips for Entertaining Guests with Food Allergies

cupcake wine1. Don’t Stress Out (aka: Don’t Feel Bad About Accepting Their Offer to Bring Something).

This is the most important thing to your guest with food allergies. Nothing makes them feel worse than causing unnecessary stress to the host. They are happy to be invited and spend time with you. If they offer to bring something, don’t feel bad about accepting that offer.

Also, realize that they will not question their own dish. Your guests might prefer having control and avoiding the awkward feeling of having to ask you what ingredients you have used to make something and if you took steps to avoid cross contamination. (And no joke, they really hate needing to ask). They know how easy it is to miss a hidden wheat ingredient in a broth, or a milk ingredient in hot dogs.  Or, how easy it is to forget old habits where one might accidently prepare gluten-free toast on a pan that still has wheat bread crumbs on it or dip a knife back into the butter that had bread crumbs in it.

So, if you don’t want to think about it, or worry about your menu items or cooking methods, know that your allergenic guest will appreciate you being flexible and allowing them to keep control to avoid a reaction.

2. If You Make an Allergen-Free Recipe, Save the Food Labels for Them.

Your guest will deeply appreciate the extra work you have done to include them in the food part of the celebration.  They may also worry that you may have missed something (see point 1). Do not be offended by this. Your guest has learned a lot about ingredients and what contains hidden allergenic ingredients – the hard and painful way. They have made the mistake of consuming it, suffering the reaction, and doing the detective work to figure out what happened.

Your guest knows that you don’t live like they do. Therefore, they don’t expect you to know that barley malt extract in a wheat-free sauce still has gluten; or that soy sauce is made from wheat; or that those hot dogs have casein milk proteins; or that soy cheese is still made with dairy (to name a few). So, be prepared to tell them how you made it. Not only will they appreciate that you have taken their allergy seriously, they will feel deeply cared for if you set aside the ingredients labels for them to evaluate.

Remember that it’s for their peace of mind. They trust you. They just don’t trust food manufacturers and the ingredients they use to make something that *should* be only what it says it is. Again, they learned the hard way that something wasn’t safe when they thought it was. It’s nothing against you.

3. Plan Ahead, Stick to the Basics and Forgo Buying Special Food Items  

Unless you enjoy learning about food allergies and want to spend an extra hour in the store reading ingredient labels, go take a look in your pantry for things you already have and that are already allergen-free such as beans, rice, potatoes and tuna. Also, look in your freezer for meats and your refrigerator and garden for fresh veggies and herbs. Proteins and starches are the most satisfying menu items at a party. You can easily make and serve deviled eggs (boil eggs, mix the yolks with a little mustard and sweet relish, scoop into the whites and that’s it!).

Here are some more quick ideas:

  • Cook some rice and turn into a beautiful rice salad with fresh minced veggies, fresh herbs, and homemade citrus vinaigrette.
  • Make some tuna salad with a vinaigrette dressing instead of a mayo dressing.
  • Chicken tenders can be coated with oil, dusted with salt, pepper, sage, garlic powder, onion powder and dry mustard, cook in the broiler until done and put in the fridge to get cold. Put them on skewers on a pretty platter with honey mustard and sesame dipping sauces.
  • Roll up slices of Hormel All-Natural Lunchmeat Ham or Turkey and stick a toothpick and an olive in each roll.
  • Cut up some potatoes, and toss them in olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper and bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Serve warm or turn into a roasted potato salad made with red wine vinaigrette and fresh herbs.
  • You could also roast and season fresh broccoli, mushrooms, eggplant, carrots or red peppers.
  • Offer plain tortilla chips and plain potato chips with salsa and hummus which are usually allergen-friendly.
  • Search the plethora of allergen-free recipes online, add “easy” and “simple” to your search. Also try “Paleo”, “Vegan” and “Raw” as your search terms.

You’ll be surprised that preparing for them can be an easy, stress-free experience.

4. Make a Simple Fruit Dessert Instead of Baking.

When you are not used to allergen-free baking, you will find that it can be a complicated, time consuming and expensive endeavor. While it may be fun to learn and try it, you will invariably have many other tasks on your to do list when preparing for a party. Almost all from-scratch allergy-free baking projects require a learning curve, a few special kinds of flours, leavening agents and binding ingredients that can’t be found at your regular food market.

I’m a bit hesitant to suggest a baking mix for brownies or cookies, but I will go ahead and suggest it, provided you are careful to know if your guest also needs to avoid dairy or eggs or nuts as many baking mixes don’t avoid multiple food allergens. So, if your guest is also allergic to eggs, you will have to figure out the best way to substitute for the eggs following instructions on the mix. My favorite mixes are from Bob’s Red Mill as they are good at helping the baker avoid multiple allergies.

That said, baking, in general, adds a bit of time and stress to your entertaining endeavor. And I’d hate to see you go to all that trouble and find out that your guest still can’t have it because you didn’t know that oats or certain kinds of starches are hard for some celiacs to digest.

My best advice would be to come up with a creative fruit dessert such as:

  • Sorbet or Smoothies made into popsicles
  • Poached pears in a ginger simple syrup
  • Cinnamon baked apples
  • Grilled pineapple slices with cracked-pepper honey
  • Grilled plums with balsamic reduction
  • Strawberries dipped in melted non-dairy chocolate chips such as the Enjoy Life brand.
  • Candy using melted non-diary chocolate chips, dried cherries and sunflower seeds, dropped by spoonfuls onto wax paper which will set when cooled.
  • Raw food websites are also a great place to find easy and creative fruit based desserts.
  • Popcorn balls (if no corn allergy) are great for any party, not just Halloween.
  • Gluten free rice krispie treats using Kellogg’s gluten-free rice krispies, regular marshmallows (if no corn allergy) and Earth Balance dairy-free butter.
  • Cracker Jacks are a great party fun food if no one has a peanut allergy.
  • Swedish Fish, Starburst, Skittles and Smarties are gluten-free and diary-free. (as of this writing, I only know that Smarties are vegan, so check candies for other offending allergies if needed).
  • Homemade vanilla or chocolate pudding made with arrowroot starch and topped with fresh fruit.

Those are just a few ideas, but whatever you do, keep it simple and you’ll save lots of time, money and energy!

5. If You are Going to Prepare Food , Be Very Mindful of Cross-Contamination.  

It would be great if no one had to worry about this but it happens every day that a person with allergies gets sick or is hospitalized due to cross contamination. It might have happened because their safe food was cooked on a pan that had allergens on it, or the cook’s hands weren’t washed after working with wheat flour. There are many ways that cross-contamination can happen. When in doubt, use another pan or get a clean knife or buy another jar of jam that hasn’t been used to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I know you don’t want extra dirty dishes, or more jam than you need, but what would you rather have, an extra knife to wash or a really sick guest? If extra diligence is needed, you may want to go the extra mile and inform the other guests to avoid bringing peanut butter cookies or anything with tree nuts if your guest is prone to airborne nut proteins threatening their life.

6. Don’t Focus on Their Allergies if They Don’t Want to Talk About it.

This is one you’ll have to feel out.Your allergenic guest thinks about their food allergies almost all day, every day. They need to talk about and think about something else. They want to enjoy your company, listen to your stories, laugh with you and have fun. Some allergy sufferers appreciate the opportunity to educate others on food allergies, especially when they feel heard and not judged as being too careful about it. Being dismissed and treated as if they are “too protective” is a sore spot since they encounter that attitude a lot. If it seems that they don’t want to talk about it, move on to another subject.

Kids who are food allergic can be even more sensitive and don’t want to hear the adults talk about them. Kids worry that their friends will make fun of them (and some do). So, if the kids are within earshot, and you are going to bond about parenting, stick to subjects that apply to all of the kids such as their sports or piano lessons and the challenges of limiting TV and Nintendos.

7. Enjoy the New Entertaining Experience, and Celebrate Life

We live in a time where food allergies can kill the whole person in an instant via anaphylactic shock or via a destruction of intestines over time. People with food allergies may have a life expectancy much shorter than everyone else’s.  So, as the saying goes “Live and Let Live.”

Their allergy might be inconvenient, but it won’t hurt you to help them avoid it. But if they don’t avoid it, it will hurt them. Be patient, understanding, accommodating and celebrate the joy of who they are outside of the food allergy. There are worse things in life than food allergies but do treat it like a digestive disability, because it is. They may look good on the outside but they hurt on the inside.  And I dare say, it’s even a social disability because of the lack of ability to participate in so many social food events. Continue to be understanding.

And from the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading, sharing, helping and supporting organizations that research cures for food allergies. Wonderful people like you are the ones that make the world a better place to live.