It’s important to know what goes into your coffee. Whether it’s the labor that goes into growing it, the roast, brand, where it’s grown, and most importantly it’s essential to know what is how it is preserved.
Preservatives are and always will be a hot topic in health and nutrition, but what about one of the most commonly debated subjects of sulfites in your food and in this case your coffee?
Should the health-conscious individual or folks allergic to sulfites be wary of them in their coffee?
In general, coffee is nearly or completely sulfite-free.
Instant coffees may have sulfites in tiny amounts. Some coffee machine cups or pods (think Keurig coffee pods) contain a very small amount of sulfites.
To find out if your coffee has sulfites, check the label on the package for a warning about the inclusion of sulfites.
What to find out more about sulfites? And when can you expect to find sulfites in coffee? Keep reading to find out what they are and if their possible effects on your health.
What Are Sulfites?
Sulfites are sulfur-based substances that occur naturally in some foods but are also sometimes added to food packaging and the foods themselves as a preservative.
Some examples of sulfites used in food are:
- Sodium sulfite
- Sodium bisulfite
- Sodium metabisulfite
- Potassium metabisulfite
- Potassium bisulfite
- Sulphur dioxide
What are Sulfites Used For?
Sulfites do a variety of things to preserve foods. One of them is keeping fruit and vegetables from oxidizing. This keeps produce from becoming discolored and getting mushy, some of these effects carry over to meat and shellfish, with sulfites preventing black spots on lobsters and shrimp.
Other uses for sulfites include adding them to bread or pizza dough to improve their overall texture.
Sulfites can also be added to food to improve their flavor and to prevent microbes such as bacteria and fungi like mold from growing.
Is it Dangerous to Consume Foods With Sulfites?
For most people, sulfites pose no threat to them. However, a certain population is allergic to sulfites to varying degrees. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that 1% of Americans are allergic to sulfites, which is over 3.3 million people.
How Do Sulfites Affect People Who are Allergic?
Sulfite-sensitive people will react differently depending on how severe their allergy is. Usually, sulfite allergies will be similar to other food allergies, some may be dangerous depending on how sensitive you are.
Sulfite allergy symptoms include (these are dependent on severity):
- itchiness and hives,
- flushing (reddening of the skin),
- trouble breathing,
- upset stomach,
- blood pressure drop,
- trouble swallowing and breathing.
The symptoms triggered by sulfite sensitivity can be very dangerous if you also have asthma on top of a sulfite allergy.
Sulfite allergies may trigger asthma symptoms and a bad reaction can lead to anaphylactic shock which can be life-threatening if not handled or treated quickly enough.
Are There Sulfites in Coffee?
Coffee for the most part is generally sulfite-free for the most part. Whether or not there are sulfites in the coffee depends on how you buy it.
Some instant coffee may contain sulfites in small amounts, sometimes sulfites are used in the packaging as well.
Some coffee K-cups used with coffee machines also contain sulfites, though once brewed, the amount of sulfites goes down to almost nothing.
What Coffee Doesn’t Have Sulfites?
If you’re looking for coffee that does not have any sulfites, most ground coffee that you buy from a coffee shop will not have any.
If you buy coffee in bags you can also look for a “sulfite free” or “contains no sulfites” label on the packaging.
Something to note is that manufacturers are only legally required to have a sulfite free label if the amount is over 10 PPM (parts per million). In other words, coffee brands must disclose on the label if the sulfite content is about 0.001% or higher. If it is lower than that amount then it is usually considered insignificant and will not be put on the label.
What Other Foods Contain Sulfites?
While most coffee apart from a few exceptions has no sulfites, some other foods have naturally occurring and added sulfites.
Some foods containing sulfites include: baked goods, pickled and canned foods, dried fruit, potato chips, some juices, soft drinks, various condiments, teabags, shrimp and other shellfish, wine, and cherries.
Other sources of sulfites include some food packaging like cellophane wrap. However, sulfites are not exclusive to food-related products. Sulfites are also sometimes used in eyedrops, inhalers, and bronchodilators (meds for breathing problems), as well as epinephrine injections (EpiPens).
That said, people with sulfite allergies do not need to avoid EpiPens, given the fact that the amount is very minuscule and that epinephrine is used to treat allergic reactions to sulfites.
While nearly all coffees contain no sulfites, it’s good to be aware of what of what kind of coffee you buy. Ground coffee and beans will in general be safe. But it’s always a good idea to do your research to ensure a sulfite-free cup of joe.