If you’re a wine lover, you’re probably acquainted with the buttery notes of a chardonnay. For some (like me), it’s just not your vibe, but for those who love a good buttery wine, you might be surprised what the beverage has in common with microwave popcorn.
As it turns out, the buttery flavor in a Chardonnay is the same ingredient that makes microwave popcorn taste buttery.
Yes, this sounds wild, but we promise actual butter isn’t being poured into your wine bottle. The ingredient is a molecule called diacetyl that naturally occurs during a process called malolactic fermentation, a second fermentation process.
During malolactic fermentation, malic acid converts to lactic acid which is a much softer acid and doesn’t give a harsh taste to the wine. When this happens, diacetyl is created and that’s where the buttery flavor originates.
But wine isn’t the only thing that has diacetyl. It’s the same ingredients companies previously used to create a butter flavor in items like microwave popcorn! Here’s the thing, though, diacetyl is no longer a popular ingredient among most brands. Back in the 2000s, a group of workers in a popcorn factory won a lawsuit alleging illness related to the inhalation of diacetyl (among other inhalants) in factories.
Since then, many brands have discontinued its use. However, diacetyl is still legal and considered safe as a flavoring as long as it’s not consumed in high levels or inhaled at high temperatures and levels. Some brands might still use it.
So is your chardonnay safe? Yes. Serious Eats spoke with Maggie Campbell, a wine and spirits expert, who explained there are currently no safety regulations around the compound in wine and spirits. Plus, it’s produced at low levels in wine and isn’t likely to be inhaled.
Note: If you have concerns about diacetyl in your diet, it is always best to discontinue consumption of suspected foods and beverages and consult with a physician.