CHINESE rice wines generally contain higher levels of biogenic amines than wines, beers and ciders, according to research initiated as part of efforts to investigate levels of the potentially harmful biogenic substances in foods and beverages.
Published in Food Control, the study tested 39 Chinese rice wine samples from different manufacturers and found the mean total concentration of biogenic amines to be 115mg/L and the maximum 260mg/L—double the maximum level previously detected in wines (130mg/L).
The beverage, commonly enjoyed in southern China and also used for cooking and drinking in Australia, contained five biogenic amines: serotonin, putrescine, tyramine, cadaverine and histamine in decreasing order of mean concentration.
Serotonin, whose possible health risks are not well documented, was identified as the most prevalent biogenic amine making up 46 per cent of the total concentration.
Histamine and tyramine (which may cause headaches and be toxic in large doses) and putrescine and cadaverine (which are generally atoxic but may potentially form carcinogenic nitrosamines) were also detected in generally higher levels in Chinese rice wines than in wines, beers and ciders.
Curtin University Centre for Food Science Research fellow Zhongxiang Fang, who co-authored the study, says although the potentially harmful side effects of biogenic amines are not well known, the high concentration of amines in Chinese rice wine is the likely culprit for causing headaches in its drinkers.
“If you drink grape wine and Chinese rice wine of the same alcohol concentration, the rice wine is more likely to make you feel uncomfortable and cause a headache, possibly from the high concentration of amines,” he says.
In comparison to semi-dry varieties, semi-sweet Chinese rice wine varieties contained significantly higher serotonin and total biogenic amine levels—possibly due to the replacement of water with rice wine during the brewing process—but not of the other four biogenic amines.
In Australia and most other countries there is currently no legal limit for biogenic amines in wine, but in China projects are underway to restrict levels of the biogenic substance in foods and beverages, according to Dr Fang.
“Our proposal is to reduce the level of amines in food, to provide some information for policymakers to establish regulations,” Dr Fang says.
To lower levels of biogenic amines in Chinese rice wine, the research team recommends stricter quality control, material selection and storage by manufacturers.
Future research for the team will include investigations of biogenic amine levels in other fermented food products.