Dried fruit has many health benefits and provides a nutritious option when you’re looking for a sweet snack. But have you ever wondered why some dried fruit is sulfured and some isn’t? Read on to find out the pros and cons of sulfuring fruit, and what other choices you have.
WHAT IS SULFURED FRUIT?
Sulfured fruit has been dried using sulfur dioxide as a preservative. This should be listed in the ingredients on a dried fruit’s package, so you can check if a fruit has been sulfured before buying it.
Sulfur dioxide prevents dried fruit from spoiling and turning brown. It’s often used for brightly-colored fruit to keep them more attractive. Some of the most commonly sulfured fruits are dried apricots, peaches, apples, pineapple, papaya, mango and golden raisins.
Sulfur dioxide is a gas. It’s typically produced by burning elemental sulfur, which is a byproduct collected from burning natural gas and oil in industrial operations. Sulfur dioxide is also used in wine making, as a disinfectant or fumigant, in bleaching agents and processed into sulfuric acid.
IS SULFUR DIOXIDE BAD FOR YOU?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers sulfur dioxide safe to consume when used as a food additive. Dried fruit contains very small amounts of sulfur dioxide, which are well below recognized toxic amounts.
Despite this fact, there is reason to be cautious about eating sulfured fruit. Sulfur dioxide can induce asthma when inhaled or ingested by those who are sensitive to it, even in small amounts.
Another concern is that sulfur dioxide is a type of sulfite. This means if you have an allergy or sensitivity to sulfites, avoid anything containing sulfur dioxide. It can cause symptoms like difficulty breathing, hives, skin rash or facial swelling.
In addition, sulfur dioxide is considered one of the top six most harmful air pollutants in the world. It’s a primary component of acid rain and causes many health problems globally. Sulfur dioxide gas in the atmosphere is primarily created by burning fossil fuels like coal and gasoline. This may not relate directly to your consumption of dried fruit, but using less of this chemical will only help the environment.
Inhalation of sulfur dioxide pollution can cause a burning sensation in your nose and throat or difficulty breathing, especially in people with asthma. Short-term exposure to high levels of sulfur dioxide can be life-threatening. And long-term exposure can lead to changes in lung function and worsen existing heart disease.
Also, exposure to high amounts of sulfur dioxide in air or food can harm the development of a baby during pregnancy.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
The natural alternative is unsulfured fruit, which has been dried without using preservatives. It’s usually dried by sun exposure, a commercial dehydrator or simply air drying.
You can look for unsulfured dried fruit in your local health food or other grocery store. The label will often state that the fruit is unsulfured. Another benefit of unsulfured fruit is that it usually won’t have any added sugar, which you can often find in sulfured fruit.
Organic dried fruit is guaranteed to be unsulfured as organic regulations don’t allow the use of sulfur or other preservatives. Organic dried fruit may not last as long because of this, but you can always freeze dried fruit to make it last longer if needed.
If you have an abundant source of fresh fruit, another great option is to dry your own fruit. That way you’ll know exactly what’s in it. Penn State Extension has a great overview of how to dry your own fruit and vegetables.