By Ekaterina Morrissey
Have you ever wondered why beer and wine don’t have a list of ingredients on their bottles? Do you feel comfortable without seeing such a list, because you know beer is made from barley and hops, and wine from grapes, and that’s that? Coming from my own experience as a Certified wine connoisseur by Wine Spectator 16 years ago, who has visited and tasted wines in some world famous vineyards in Loire Valley, France, Tuscany, Italy, Bulgaria, South Africa and all over California, I have to say, I felt quite comfortable without seeing an ingredients list. Until just recently, when I stumbled upon an article on beer made in North America, including Mexico’s Corona. The article stated some very disturbing facts about the ingredient list in beer, so I had to find out more and started to dig in.
Most people know that wine is made from grapes, or other fruit, and beer is made from malted barley or wheat. Beer is produced by the hydrolysis of starch and fermentation of the resulting sugar. The starch and enzymes are most often derived from malted barley and malted wheat. Then most beers are flavored with hops (the female flowers of the Humulus lupulus hop plant), which adds bitterness and acts as a natural preservative. Other flavoring, such as fruits and herbs may be included on occasion too. Beer is the 3rd most popular drink in the world, after water and tea. Beer is the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world. Beer is thought to be the oldest fermented beverage possibly dating back to 3500-3100 BC, backed up by the earliest known chemical evidence of barley beer from the site of Godin Tepe in the Zagros Mountain of western Iran.
Has the process of brewing beer changed since? And why don’t beer makers list the ingredients list if they only use what is really required to brew beer? In the United States, alcoholic beverages are NOT required by law to have ingredient labeling. The beer companies are NOT regulated by the FDA, like the food and non-alcoholic beverages. The people in charge of our taxes, the Department of Treasury is in charge, and looking after all alcoholic beverages companies, and they are doing one hell of a job looking after them!
After some serious research and email exchanges with some beer makers, I found out that here in United States, beer and wine companies may or may not choose to post a label, and even if they do, they don’t have to list all the ingredients they have used. So, just when you thought you are living a healthy lifestyle, understand food labels and have a glass or two on occasion, and why not, you are about to find out that the following “harmful” ingredients are used in beer made in North America:
1. Propylene Glycol – mostly used as automotive antifreeze, BUT generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the US. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
2. MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) – one of the worst food additives (just when you thought alcohol wasn’t addictive enough!), linked to obesity, nerve damage, eye damage, MS, migraines, disorientation and fatigue, depression, memory loss, strokes, autism, hormonal imbalance and the list goes on….
3. High Fructose Corn Syrup – made from Genetically Modified corn, linked to organ damage and cancers. HFCS is hugely linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes, heart disease and more.
4. FD&C Blue1, Red 40 and Yellow 5 – synthetic colorants, produced from petroleum. They are banned in most of European countries, but recognized as safe in US. They can cause allergic reactions in people with pre-existing asthma. Red 40 is linked to hyperactive disorders. Yellow 5 or Tartrazine is a synthetic dye used as food coloring. It appears to cause the most allergic and intolerance reactions among asthmatics and people with aspirin intolerance. Yellow 5 is also linked to anxiety, migraine, clinical depression, blurred vision, itching, general weakness, heat waves, purple skin patches and sleep disturbance.
5. Calcium Disodium EDTA – aminopolycarboxylic acid synthesized from formaldehyde and sodium cyanide. It is linked to reproductive and developmental effects.
6. Carrageenan – food additive, which causes inflammation of the intestines, which leads to IBS.
7. BPA – (only for beer in cans) – Bisphenol is a man-made carbon-based synthetic compound. It is banned in Europe due to its health hazards. The US says it’s safe! Bisphenol is an endocrine disruptor which can mimic estrogen. Linked to obesity, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
8. Isinglass- Substance made from the dried bladders of fish.
9. Caramel Coloring – Class III and IV are made from ammonia and are carcinogenic! Linked to allergies and cancer.
10. Glyceryl monostearate – Known as GMS, is a food additive, used to “add” body to food and drinks.
11. Carmine – Insect based dye, produced by some scale insects, such as the cochineal scale. Linked to allergic reactions.
12. Sulfates – Linked to allergies and asthma
13. Corn Syrup – Genetically Modified sugar from GM corn, linked to organ damage and cancer.
14. Fluoride – Linked to cancer.
Here is the list of some of the beers using the above:
(Budweiser, Bud Light, Corona, Miller Light, Coors, Fosters, Red Stripe, Miller Coors, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Michelob Ultra, Guinness (is no longer own by the Irish!), Busch Light, Anheuser-Busch Brands). Feel free to email or call your favorite beer maker and demand the ingredients they are using. It is your right to know! And don’t be fooled by their websites and FAQ posted there – they have nothing to do with the truth.
Still thirsty? There is a way to still enjoy the cold foamy drink that doesn’t have the disturbing list of ingredients above. Stick to beer made in Europe, like Heineken, Amstel and Beck’s. European countries don’t use GMO grains and a lot of additives are banned there. Germany’s “Reinheitsgebot” law does not allow using any other ingredients but, water, yeast, malted barley or wheat, and hops.
What’s the story of wine? Most winemakers do add sulfates, and it’s actually labeled. All wines from United States contain fluoride, since the water here is being fluoridated heavily. A lot of domestic wines have such high level of fluoride that they cannot be exported to Europe and other places. Canada is no exception, with the heaviest fluoridated provinces of Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba, about 70-75%, which as much as United States. Australian, New Zealand’s and Chilean wine contains fluoride too. European countries and South Africa are the only ones who are fluoride-free and therefore their beer and wine are clean.
The Alcohol and Tobacco tax and Trade Bureau in the United States, and the government authorities in all major wine-producing counties have approved over 60 additives for use in wine.
Two of the most conniving are:
1. Mega purple, a 2000:1 concentrate from lesser red grapes that adds texture, body and color.
2. Velcorin – Chemical that kills everything in wine in order to eliminate Brettanomyces.
Grapes are one of the most heavily sprayed crops with pesticides (cryolite, Kryocide and others)! The residue from pesticides goes in the wine. It was a big disappointment for me to find out that the worst grapes for fluoride, appears to be conventionally grown varieties in California. I remember having so much fun visiting some of the most popular vineyards in Napa, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Temecula, and never occurred to me to ask about questions other than how old is the wine and what grape it is.
Your best bet: Stick with organic domestic wines or imported wines from Europe and South Africa. You can always contact individual wine makers and wineries in California (as cryolite is used primarily just in California!), and inquire about whether or not they use high-fluoride treatments, such as cryolite, bone meal, and how often they test for fluoride levels in their wines.
It just doesn’t make sense to buy fresh organic produce, pasture grass fed beef, organic eggs, butter and milk, but not knowing what’s in your drink. So, “cheers” to making the educated choice!
By Ekaterina Morrissey