The press in the USA have been reporting on the news that the buttery flavouring used in microwave popcorn, Diacetyl, may trigger Alzheimer’s disease. What caught my eye is that the articles have gone on to say that Diacetyl is also used in some wines.
The news comes from a study by the University of Minnesota drug-design expert Robert Vince, PhD, and colleagues, published in ACS’s journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.
Diacetyl is already linked to lung damage in people who work in microwave popcorn factories and Vince’s team have fond that Diacetyl causes brain proteins to misfold into the Alzheimer’s-linked form called beta amyloid.
Vince’s team also found that Diacetyl has an architecture similar to a substance that makes beta-amyloid proteins clump together in the brain — clumping being a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Even more, the popcorn butter flavourant can pass through the blood-brain barrier and can inhibit the brain’s natural amyloid-clearing mechanisms.
Diacetyl is already linked to lung damage in people who work in microwave popcorn factories and according to the NY Daily News is also used to produce ‘the distinctive buttery flavour and aroma of margarines, snack foods, candy, baked goods, pet foods, and even some chardonnays’.
Diacetyl in wine is produced when wines undergo Malolactic Fermenation (MLF) which is a secondary fermentation by bacteria that converts the malic acid in the wine into CO2 and lactic acid.
It’s a natural phenomenon and is now actively encouraged by a lot of wine makers under controlled conditions as it creates a smoother more rounded wine.
It’s commonly used in making red wines all over the globe and is used in making some whites such as Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. In fact MLF was originally developed in Burgundy and is useful to wine makers in cool climates which produce high acid wines.
Years ago Malolactic Fermentation was looked on as a fault as it used to happen spontaneously, usually when the wine was in bottle. Today it’s seen as beneficial as the young wine loses its hard and acidic edge and becomes mellower.
Wilf, over at Wilf’s Wine Press highlighted the problem with Diacetyl a good number of years ago and points out that ‘in warm grape growing regions in the New World, such as California and Australia, wines tend to be low-acid and when a wine maker employs MLF, magically Diacetyl turns up’.
However Diacetyl in wine is part of a natural process, dusting popcorn with it isn’t. It seems quite wrong to put the two in the same bracket to me! Only recently we saw reports that red wine can actually help in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease!
These food scares are ridiculous given the amount of conflicting evidence and as Wilf quite rightly goes on to say: ‘It seems no matter how many wonderful health benefits wine bestows upon us mere mortal wine drinkers, some misguided bureaucrat has to justify his job by creating another ridiculous regulation.’ In my book a ‘little of something you fancy does you good’ and drinking wine in moderation is no bad thing at all.