Sulphites in cake, or other food and drink, need to be identified because they are on of the 14 European Union listed food allergens. Sulphites consist of a group of sulphur based chemicals, one of which is sulphur dioxide.
I had wondered in my last blog about soya if that was the most hidden food allergen. But it would appear that this dubious ‘award’ is more likely to be owned by sulphites. They are absolutely everywhere!
Which probably explains why sulphites, along with gluten, are the only two food allergens that have legal levels attributed to them. To be able to say food is ‘gluten free’ there needs to be less than 20ppm (parts per million) in food or drink products. Or one can use ‘very low gluten’, for levels between 21 and 100ppm.
In the case of sulphites, as shown in The Food Standards Agency ‘Food allergen labeling and information requirements under the EU Food Information for Consumer Regulation No. 1169/2011 Technical Guidance, the the expectations for labeling are:
‘concentrations of more than 10mg/kg or 10mg/L (litre) in terms of total SO2 (sulphur dioxide)’
So there needs to be lower levels than this in food items for food businesses not to have to identify them as an allergen in their customer information.
So what are sulphites and what allergy can they cause?
As mentioned above, sulphites are chemical compounds that include sulphur dioxide. An excellent article by Food Matters advises that
‘They are essentially food preservatives (E220-228) that are used to prevent the browning or discoloration of foods.’
The article goes on to list all the ‘E’ numbers that relate to sulphites, and there are a lot of them!
In relation to what allergies sulphites cause Safer Eating says,
‘It is rare to have a true allergy, but sulphites can cause allergy-like symptoms in people (especially if they already have asthma or allergies that cause a runny, itchy nose) (Allergy UK 2015)’
This is the impact of most concern in all the articles I can find. Anaphylaxis.org.uk provide an excellent advice sheet about sulphites, which explains that the most common situation is a sensitivity to sulphites. They go on to say that sulphites work by releasing a gas which can irritate and constrict the airways, resulting in wheezing and asthma in people who have this sensitivity. But this is not a immune system response and so therefore not an allergy.
However, whilst recognising that a true allergy to sulphites is rare the help sheet from Anaphylaxis.org.uk, goes onto talk about the impact of this on individuals, including the speed and potential danger of this, just the same as any other food allergy.
The most extreme result being anaphylactic shock requiring adrenaline injections to treat. It is essential to know if you actually have an allergy because most of the adrenaline injectors used in the UK include sulphites as a preservative. So it’s definitely worth finding out more if you think you are allergic.
Where can sulphites be found?
Sulphites in cake and bakeit freefrom
I have friends who, when they drink wine or fizzy pop, start to sniffle and wheeze. It also seems to increase their snoring levels, although whether that is the amount of alcohol drunk or the sensitivity is probably debatable!
We avoid sulphites in our cake kits by using organic raisins which do not use sulphites as a preservative. We also use unwaxed lemons, preserved with potassium sorbate (not a sulphite) and oranges that use shellac as a preservative.
Shellac is an interesting compound, not very delightfully so, because it comes from secretions of the female Lac beetle. Not a great thought, but it is widely used to protect citrus and other fresh fruits. Whilst it is a natural product it wouldn’t meet the requirements of very strict vegans. Something I have realised I need to highlight in our product pages where oranges are used because, this aside, all our kits are vegan. To date I have not been able to find unwaxed oranges which could help avoid shellac.
Our Spicy Ginger cake kit (watch out for some great new photographs coming VERY soon!) uses Tate & Lyle Black Treacle and Golden syrup, which I have had confirmed do not contain sulphites. Aspall’s have also confirmed that none of their vinegar’s have any sulphites in them. We use their white wine vinegar in all our cake kits to help the cakes to rise.
I hope this is helpful for you to know, in general or in relation to our kits. But please do always get in touch with us if you feel unsure about anything related to our kits and any allergy or sensitivity you might have.
OK, well all that serious stuff over, and the summer just beginning, perfect time for a recipe for a delicious iced treat. I’ve found a very simple one from BBC Good Food for Very berry ice.
To keep with our bakeit freefrom aims, this is very easy to make and contains only 3 ingredients. It could be allergen free… just choose your summer fruit of choice!
For reasons discussed above my recommendation would be to use an unwaxed lemon. Be sure to check out all the fruit’s preservatives if you need to avoid sulphites or shellac. Personally I’d also miss out the sieving step, an increase in fibre would be my excuse for such ‘laziness’
Enjoy, the summer AND this iced treat!
I will be back soon with a blog discussing another of the listed food allergens. But if you have anything that you would like me to research and write about do, please get in touch.