Food & Nutrition Journal (ISSN: 2575-7091)

mini review

Sulfur in Wines and Vineyards: Taste and Comparative Toxicity to Pesticides

Gilles-Eric Seralini1*, Jérôme Douzelet2, Jean-Charles Halley3

1University of Caen, Network on Risks, Quality and Sustainable Development, Esplanade de la Paix, Caen Cedex, France

2Spark-Vie, Le Mas de Rivet, Barjac, France

3Les Mets Chai, Caen, France

*Corresponding author: Gilles-Eric Seralini, University of Caen, Network on Risks, Quality and Sustainable Development, Esplanade de la Paix, 14032 Caen Cedex, France

Received Date: 05 March, 2021; Accepted Date: 15 March, 2021; Published Date: 18 March, 2021


Vines are among the crop plants that are the most heavily treated with pesticides. They may also be treated mainly with copper (Cu) and sulfur (S), which are commonly used in organic cultures instead of chemical pesticides but at lower doses. However, in common with synthetic pesticides, Cu or S may also contain petroleum residues in formulations marketed mainly for non-organic treatments. We have already reviewed the taste and toxicity of pesticides and Cu in vineyards and wines. As a part of this trilogy, in this paper we summarize data on the taste and potential toxicity of sulfur in wines, as well as on its use and role. We underline here that it is protective for life at physiological levels, is produced at low levels by yeasts and raisins, and is toxic by saturation of the capacity of biological processes.

Sulfur is used in many forms, including mineral forms, and sulfur dioxide or sulfates in vineyards, and for instance sulfites, such as salts like potassium metabisulfite, in wines. Used at high levels (up to 450 mg/L is authorized in some countries in wines), sulfites become major fungicides and bactericides. They kill microorganisms, for instance those that do not have sulfite oxidase. Sulfites and Cu salts are also authorized for use, differently and in general to a lesser extent in organic wines. Today, S is the major additive in different forms in wines.

Here we characterize the taste of sulfite additives and the sensations that they evoke in volunteer tasters in comparison to the literature, to complete the comparative data. In the experiments, we tested sulfite additives in water and wines at similar levels. We also compared them with synthetic pesticides and Cu. Sulfites are irritants from 10-30 mg/L in water. Tasters were able to detect sulfites in a wine spiked in a blinded manner to a level of 30-90 mg/L. This was found to clearly modify the taste of wine. Sulfites at high levels break the complexity of nose and mouth sensations, according to specialists, especially for red wine. They dry and acidify the tastes of wines. As for Cu, natural sulfites cannot be considered as comparable to the petroleum-derived synthetic pesticides present in non-organic wines from any point of view. By contrast, high levels of sulfites do have grossly acute effects comparable to those of synthetic pesticides, taste-wise and toxicity-wise; however, the classical chemical pesticides have more chronic toxic effects. We were able to differentiate Cu and S toxicity levels in organic and non-organic treatments, due to the combined effects of petroleum derivatives in formulations in the latter case. The environmental impact of high sulfur treatments in non-organic vineyards and wines today appears to affect biodiversity, drinkability, taste, and health. Some tastes of Cu, S, or chemical pesticides may have been previously attributed to other characteristics of wines. The chronic toxicity of chemical pesticides is not negligible in comparison to that of alcohol, it could enhance its effect. Finally, taste could serve as a toxicity detector in wine.


Copper; Pesticides; Sulfates; Sulfites; Sulfur; Wine


ADI: Acceptable Daily Intake; Bw: Body weight; Cu: Copper: EU: European Union; S: Sulfur

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