Columnist Sarah Sanders tries to find what’s really in alcoholic beverages.
I wasn’t asking for confidential CIA files or anything, just the ingredients in beer, wine and spirits.
But my Internet search results primarily consisted of speculative posts on advice forums, message boards and blogs, and as a journalist, I couldn’t very well offer you hearsay as fact.
Consequently, my original suspicion – that most commercial alcohol drinks contained chemical additives – grew more intense as I came up somewhat empty-handed.
Nonetheless, I’m going to write about my suspicions, as well as those of others. I just wanted to emphasize my struggle to you as readers, because it demonstrates how mysterious your food can really be.
Alcohol is a food. The only major difference between a bottle of wine and a bottle of grape juice is one sits around for a while and ferments. Alcohol still enters your body, right? It has plant-based – and sometimes animal-based – ingredients in it, right? Alcohol is food, food that gets you drunk.
So why don’t we know what’s in our pumpkin beer, our white wine or our Bacardi rum? Well, the United States government doesn’t recognize alcohol as a food source.
It is not the Food and Drug Administration that has authority over the production and sales of alcohol, but instead the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
Consequently, we are not explicitly informed of the ingredients in our menthol cigarettes, nor do we know exactly what we’re drinking in a Corona.
Although it’s not a complete list of ingredients, I was able to dig up some information on alcoholic drinks and their potentially harmful contents. For example, more and more people are putting pressure on the industry to provide labels that identify certain allergens present in the alcoholic products.
I was able to get a nice list of additives found in commercial beers and wines that can agitate the immune system and make drinkers sick: sulfites, histamines, tannins, gluten, milk casein, gelatin, egg whites, corn, yeast and isinglass, a fish derivative.
Maybe you get a killer headache from red wine, and you didn’t realize that the tannins that make it so dark (a result of using grape skins in the wine-making process) cause you to have some allergic reaction. Maybe you’re a vegan, and you had no idea that commercial companies use fining agents like egg whites and isinglass to prevent their products from getting cloudy.
It could also be that you just don’t like the idea of fish in your Bud Light. Keeping these potentially dissuading ingredients from the public eye seems like a good motivator for avoiding a label.
Plus, if we knew exactly what alcoholic drinks contained, it might spark further questions whose answers would serve as further deterrents. For example, what fish are we deriving isinglass from? Does the corn found in beer come from a genetically modified crop?
What kind of pesticides is being used to grow wheat, hops, grapes or corn that could be potentially harmful to consumers? What sweeteners are used in flavored drinks? Aspartame? High fructosecorn syrup? If the FDA doesn’t administer alcohol production, does that mean some ingredients aren’t properly tested for harmless consumption?
This is where the government and the industry are failing. You could find the answer to most of these questions about any other food product just by looking at the label. At the very least, you could find it on the Internet. But there are certain contracts that have been made to keep this information a secret.
Fortunately, there are ways to circumvent the unknown. First, try some local beer. It tends to be more expensive yet better-tasting and significantly less likely to contain the potentially harmful additives I listed. Since these brewing companies are not operating anywhere near the level of Anheuser-Busch and the like, they’re not under pressure to mass produce; thus, additives become unnecessary.
Some also choose to go organic. But like I’ve said before, organic doesn’t always mean better. There are plenty of microbreweries and small-scale vineyards that avoid additives, but are not USDA-certified organic.
Ultimately, you can make your own fermented delights. In this issue, I give you a recipe from an awesome book “Wild Fermentation,” by Sandor Ellix Katz, a self-proclaimed “fermentation revivalist.”
Sarah Sanders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.