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The virtues of fruit wines

April 25, 2008  By Erin MacPherson

Consumers have had increased awareness of the benefits
of wine, especially with the advent of the French Paradox. The French
Paradox refers to the connection between France’s low coronary heart
disease mortality rates and the regular consumption of red wine.

Consumers have had increased awareness of the benefits of wine, especially with the advent of the French Paradox. The French Paradox refers to the connection between France’s low coronary heart disease mortality rates and the regular consumption of red wine.

This increased interest in human health, nutrition and disease prevention has enlarged consumer demand for functional foods. These functional foods provide a health benefit that goes beyond basic nutrition.
Dr. Vasantha Rupasinghe, assistant professor and Tree Fruit Bio-Product Research Chair at Nova Scotia Agricultural College, took this research to a new and different level. A collaboration between NSAC and the University of Guelph, the study attempted to determine basic health-related constituents present in 10 categories of fruit wines and compare them with those in  traditional wines. 


Dr. Rupasinghe says that despite the strong epidemiological and other scientific evidence to support the health benefits of red wine, some people have difficulty enjoying it due to allergic reactions commonly called “wine headaches.” The exact reason for this is not clear but a group of fermentation products known as biogenic amines, which includes histamine, is suggested to be the culprit. Symptoms associated with histamine allergies include flush, sneezing, headache, diarrhea, skin itch and shortness of breath. Dr. Rupasinghe’s study attempted to find an alternative solution for this problem by studying non-traditional wines with high antioxidants but no histamine.

According to Dr. Rupasinghe, no detailed investigations had previously been conducted to evaluate health-related major components and histamine of fruit wines produced using pome fruits, berries and stone fruits, although there is data available on the concentrations of antioxidants and biogenic amines in grape wines.

As the initial step of this research, Dr. Rupasinghe and his team determined the histamine content, total antioxidant capacity (TAC), total phenolic content (TPC) and the concentrations of mineral elements present in non-traditional fruit wines, and compared their concentrations with those found in grape wines (red, white and icewine).

Ten types of fruit wines (apple, black currant, blueberry, cherry, cranberry, elderberry, peach, pear, plum and raspberry) and four types of grape wine (red, Chardonnay, Riesling and icewine) were examined in the study.

“Fruits contain many dietary phytonutrients, with antioxidants (phenolics, carotenoids; and vitamins) being the primary one that comes to mind,” says Dr. Rupasinghe. “Scientific literature shows that dietary intake of these fruit phenolics is inversely related to coronary heart disease and has other beneficial properties.”

The concentration and composition of the phenolics present in wines depends largely on the source of fruit and the method of wine making. Interestingly, this study showed that TAC and TPC are the highest not only in red (Cabernet) wine but also in elderberry, blueberry and black currant wines. They were moderate in cherry, raspberry, cranberry and plum wines; and the lowest in apple, peach and icewine (from grapes), white(Chardonnay) and pear wines.

Among the 16 elements analyzed, potassium was the most abundant element distributed among all the wines. An interesting finding was that calcium concentration was the highest in cranberry wines. Other interesting findings included magnesium concentrations, which were highest in grape wines (red, white and icewine) and elderberry wine. Iron, manganese and zinc were the predominant minor elemental constituents.

According to Dr. Rupasinghe, understanding the mineral content in wine can be beneficial because of potential health impacts, its role in wine stability and in determining toxicological risks and food regulations. He notes that literature states that the mineral profile of wines has also been proposed as a possible fingerprint; used to characterize wines based on their geographic origin.

A major and unique finding of interest was the biogenic amine concentrations in fruit wines, in particular, histamine. Biogenic amines are organic compounds found in wines that are a result of the fermentation process of red wines (malolactic fermentation). Wines other than red wine “had much lower concentrations of histamine.”  Concentrations of histamine in plum, cherry and apple wines were even below the method detection limit.  Red wine (Cabernet) had a significantly higher concentration of biogenic amine histamine than did any of the fruit wines, white wines or icewine.

So does this mean that fruit wines are headache-free?

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that,” says Dr. Rupasinghe. “Although promising, a long-term clinical trial would need to be conducted in order to confirm these results in people who are sensitive to histamine. The study does, however, demonstrate that the biogenic amine that reputedly causes headaches, histamine, is present only in trace amounts in non-traditional fruit wines as compared to red wines.”

This study indicates that potential exists for introducing “headache-free” but health-promoting, antioxidant-rich, non-traditional fruit wines to consumers of who are not able to enjoy the possible health benefits of red wine.

Erin MacPherson is a research communications and outreach specialist with the Nova Scotia Agricultural College.

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