A lot of people are curious to know why wholefoods are best. Meanwhile, food additives are chemical substances added to foods to improve flavour, texture, colour, appearance and consistency. Food additives are preservatives during manufacturing or processing. Herbs, spices, hops, salt, yeast, water, air and protein hydrolysates are excluded from this definition.

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), also known as dibutyl hydroxytoluene, is a fat-soluble organic compound. It is chemically derived from phenol, that is useful for its antioxidant properties. Its action which is likened to that of Vitamin E is often added to foods as a preservative due to its ability to prevent oils, fats and shortenings from oxidative deterioration and rancidity.


Butylated hydroxytoluene


Conversely, BHT is also used in Non-Food products such as cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, rubber, oil, jet fuels and petroleum products to slow down the autooxidation rate of ingredients. More recently it has been used in medicine to treat genital herpes and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Mainly as it works by damaging the protective outer layer of viral cells which keep the viruses from spreading and causing more harm.

Food Additive Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)

BHT is a white crystalline powder but will turn yellow in colour in the presence of foods containing iron. It is generally odourless but may potentially have a slightly aromatic smell. Frequently, Butylated hydroxytoluene is used as an antioxidant in foods in conjunction with Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA). Because the two are synergistic in their actions.


Properties of Butylated hydroxytoluene


BHT is combustible in nature and presents health hazards when exposed directly to eyes, skin or is ingested/inhaled. Butylated hydroxytoluene must be stored in an airtight container that is free from light, heat and moisture. This is to prevent discolouration and loss of activity. It is phenolic in its essence and thus undergoes reactions typical of phenols. Contact with strong oxidizing agents may cause BHT to spontaneously combust due to its incompatibility with such agents.


Although BHT was initially cultivated as an antioxidant product for use in petroleum and rubber products. The Food and Drug Administration granted approval for its use in food and food products in 1954. Hence, BHT is now widely used as an additive in food to reduce the oxidative deterioration that results in rancidity. Also food spoilage, losses in colour and flavour and lesser nutritional value.


Advantages of Butylated hydroxytoluene


BHT promotes the shelf life of food by interfering with the propagation step in the mechanism of oxidation. The antioxidant effect “arises from the presence of a hydroxyl group attached to an aromatic ring substituted with methyl groups”, thus allowing a hydrogen atom to be donated from the hydroxyl group to a fatty radical and putting a stop on the degradation of the food.


BHT is best suited in foods containing a high fat or oil content because it is insoluble in water. It is also more effective as an additive in animal fat rather than vegetable oil because it is volatile and distilled under certain food processing conditions. Butylated hydroxytoluene is therefore unsuitable for use alone in an oil particularly when foods that are high in moisture are being fried. BHT has high-temperature stability and imparts this trait when used in baked goods, fats or shortenings.


Butylated hydroxytoluene is best used in conjunction with Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) because it has a synergistic effect. However, BHT has a greater steric hindrance than BHA because BHT contains two tert-butyl groups encircling the hydroxyl group.


Below is a list of common foods containing BHT:

  • Active Dry Yeast.
  • Cake Mixes.
  • Cereals and Cereal Based Snack Foods.
  • Glazed Fruit.
  • Margarine.
  • Emulsion Stabilizers for Shortening.
  • Ready Meals.
  • Sauces.
  • Essential Oils.
  • Dehydrated Meat.
  • Sausage, poultry and meat products.
  • Snack Foods.
  • Chewing gum.
  • Frying oils and frying fats excluding olive pomace oil.
  • Dehydrated soups, broths, potatoes.
  • Potato Chips.


Reports on Butylated hydroxytoluene

There have been many studies conducted on the use of BHT. As seen in toxicology, the majority have been carried out on animals rather than humans. The few studies that were performed on humans, identified a lower percentage of excretions. Further problems including symptoms of headaches, back pain, diaphoresis, asthma and more. Furthermore, there have been incidences where people were either intolerant to BHT or allergic. Although it was suggested that those with responses possibly had an imbalance in their body’s fat metabolism. Overall the results were not conclusive.

On the other hand, there have also been studies that claim BHT has the opposite effect. In that, they may even be anti-carcinogenic, but it is more likely that the anti-carcinogenic effects are the result of naturally occurring antioxidants and not synthetic materials used to promote unnatural shelf life. Overall, negative sides effects have been identified in high doses of BHT but if the dose is reduced what is the result of then long-term exposure? This is yet to be studied.


Toxicology Studies


The toxicology studies determined that the ADI was 0-0.3 thus the TMDI and EDI theoretically fall within the ADI range making it safe for consumption in small amounts.  When truly assessing the risks involved with the antioxidant BHT it is important to note that the average Australian does not eat complete natural wholefood products prepared fresh in their home every single meal, every single day and are thus more likely to be exposed to BHT most days for their entire lives. Even if the individual was more health-conscious and diligent with their food choices it is highly likely that they’d still encounter BHT in the form of nonfood products like medicines, packaging and cosmetic products that haven’t been considered.

It is also important to note that the ADI will vary between countries, age, sex and lifestyle and even though there is an ADI in place it is almost impossible to track one’s exact consumption and whether it will fall in line with their genetic makeup and their requirements to maintain homeostasis for optimal function. Truth be told, food manufacturers are seeking to maximize profits through longer shelf life and not deliver consumers their best health.




The risks associated with BHT have been recognized and there are plans for a reduction in its allowable usage amount over the coming years. It is still recommended that consumers do their best to eliminate or at best reduce the amount of BHT they ingest. One sure way to do this is to eliminate cereal and cereal-based products which are the more common products containing BHT. Vegetable oils containing BHT and chewing gum. Consumers are advised to read food labels to identify if BHT is listed and to prepare as many fresh meals in the home as they can.


Amanda de Souza
Amanda de Souza

My health and fitness journey began in 2012 and although I am still a work in progress I am learning more every day and want to educate others as much as I can. Follow more great advice from Amanda on Instagram.