Love wine but can’t tolerate the morning-after affects that sulfites in the libation can cause?
University of Kansas researchers just might have come up with the perfect solution.
Pour out the sulfites.
A team of engineering researchers at KU is working toward the design and marketing of a low-cost, easy-to-use device that would filter up to 99 percent of sulfites from wine when it’s poured from the bottle.
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Sulfites are a class of compounds including sulfur dioxide and sulfite salts that act as antioxidants and antibacterial compounds. Since the time of the Roman Empire, they have been added in the wine-making process as a preservative.
A lot of people, even some wine lovers, have a sensitivity or intolerance to sulfites that can cause a range of problems from hives to chest tightness.
Since 1988 wines sold in the U.S. containing more than 10 parts per million of sulfites have been required to include the phrase “contains sulfites” on the label.
The KU solution sounds pretty simple.
“Our idea is that you’d have a device like an aerator,” said Mark Shiflett, Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering.
“You’d stick it on the top of the bottle — and as you pour a glass through the device, it removes the sulfites. And it would be inexpensive.”
What makes the KU sulfite remover different from similar products is the amount of sulfites it would eliminate, and the ease at which it’s done.
Shiflett’s group has tested other products and found they only remove half of the sulfites. They also require putting drops of a chemical in the glass of wine, pouring wine through a filter set atop the glass or stirring a filter through the wine.
“We’re doing a chemical separation — where the wine passes through a material that acts like a magnet for the sulfites,” said William Gilbert, a postdoctoral researcher in Shiflett’s lab.
“These are materials that if you were to look at the atomic scale you would find chemical sites that specifically bind sulfites so they don’t pass into the wine glass.
“Other components of the wine, like the sugars and the tannins, won’t be affected.”
Shiflett, a wine drinker himself, stressed that the absorbent must remove the sulfites without changing the quality of the wine.
The KU researcher said if his team could successfully design and build a sulfite filter that easily attaches to the end of a bottle, he believes consumers would buy it.
“You need it at a price point where it will sell and it will be really effective,” said Shiflett.
He said he and the researchers expect a prototype in six months and are hoping that “a year from now, maybe we could go onto ‘Shark Tank’ or go to a big wine producer like E & J Gallo Winery and say, ‘Look — a box of wine could come with one of these sulfites filters on the end of it.”
While KU’s sulfite remover could make drinking wine less painful, any of us consuming too much wine in one sitting might still be susceptible to the next day headache.
“That’s a problem that is a bit more difficult to help solve,” Shiflett said.