Thursday, February 17, 2011

An end to wine headaches at last

Thank food biotechnologist Hennie van Vuuren at the University of British Columbia for finding the solution to one of the most vexing problems for would-be wine lovers: the headache that so often accompanies wine drinking for up to 30% of the population. These unfortunate folks are sensitive to compounds known as biogenic amines such as histamine, which can also impart off-putting flavors to wines. (It isn't the sulfites.) I have long thought that there was a huge opportunity for someone to crack this particularly hard nut and figure out how to make low-amine wines.


van Vuuren apparently had the same idea, and over the past several years he has been developing a strain of yeast for wine fermentation that produces low levels of amines. The yeast, known as Malolactic ML101, has already been approved by Health Canada and the US Food and Drug Administration. According to the developers of the new yeast, Lesaffre Yeast Corporation, there is a good chance you have had wine produced with ML101 without knowing it, since it doesn’t require any special labeling. If you ask me though, they are missing an opportunity to spread the good news to the millions who have been avoiding wine for fear of triggering a migraine.

There is of course a catch in that the FDA and other regulatory agencies in the U.S. take a dim view of winemakers claiming any health benefits about wine, despite the massive amount of supportive data on the subject across a wide range of conditions. That leaves it up to independent wine and health experts (such as yours truly) to spread the word. So winemakers, if you are using ML101 let us know, and consumers, let’s talk it up especially to our friends who have been unable to enjoy wine. (The only winery to confirm that they are using ML101 is Sandhill Winery in British Columbia, though several American wineries do as well.)

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