What is Butylated Hydroxytoluene E321 in food? Uses, Safe, Side effects

What is Butylated Hydroxytoluene E321 in food? Uses, Safe, Side effects


Table of Contents

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a chemical commonly used worldwide as an additive in foods. Also one of the most important antioxidants to prevent rancidity, BHT is gaining domestic and global momentum for its qualities. This article discusses BHT, including its uses and safety concerns.

What is butylated hydroxytoluene?

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) E321 is a common food additive used to preserve fats and prevent them from going rancid. It has also been used as a preservative in non-food products such as cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

Butylated hydroxytoluene, or BHT, is a common food additive used to preserve fats and prevent them from going rancid. It has also been used as a preservative in non-food products such as cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

BHT is made by reacting 1,4-dihydroxybenzene with 2,6-di-tertiary butyl phenol. The final product contains approximately 80 percent BHT by weight.

BHT prevents oxidation of unsaturated fat molecules in foods like vegetable oils, margarine and shortening by acting as an antioxidant. Oxidation can cause off-flavors in these products that can be prevented by adding BHT before they are packaged into containers or jugs for sale at grocery stores or supermarkets.

Butylated Hydroxytoluene Chemical Formula

The chemical formula for butylated hydroxytoluene is C7H8O2.

How is butylated hydroxytoluene made?

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a synthetic antioxidant. It is a white solid that is insoluble in water and soluble in many organic solvents.

BHT is produced by the reaction of allyl chloride with butanol in the presence of aluminium chloride, followed by hydrolysis:


The product BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) can then be purified by distillation.


Appearance White crystalline powder or flake, odorless or with a characteristic faint aromatic odor
Other names Butylhydroxytoluene, 2,6-ditertiary-butyl-p-cresol, 4-methyl-2,6-ditertiarybutylphenol
CAS number 128-37-0
Chemical formula C15H24O
Molecular weight 220.36
Solubility Insoluble in water, freely soluble in food fats and oils

What is butylated hydroxytoluene used for?

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a synthetic antioxidant that is commonly used in foods, drugs and cosmetics. It’s often added to products to prevent spoilage and to extend their shelf-life.

Hydroxytoluene Uses

BHT may be present in the following processed foods:

  • Edible fats
  • Fried foods
  • Nuts
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Instant noodles, rices

Two types food antioxidants

There are two types of antioxidants: those that are water-soluble and those that are fat-soluble. BHT is a fat-soluble antioxidant. This means it works best in fats and oils where the free radicals can be trapped and neutralized.

1. Water soluble antioxidants

Butylated Hydroxytoluene is a water soluble antioxidant that is used as a food additive and in cosmetics. It is also used as a chemical preservative in products such as cosmetics, shampoos, soaps, deodorants and hair conditioners.

2. Fat soluble antioxidants

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a fat-soluble antioxidant that prevents fats and oils from going rancid. BHT has been used in food since the 1920s and in cosmetics since the 1930s.

BHT is often added to foods, such as potato chips, nuts, cereals and crackers, to prevent them from becoming rancid. It’s also used to prevent oils from going bad in cosmetics, such as lipsticks and lotions.

In addition to its use as a preservative, BHT is also used in some prescription drugs as an antioxidant. For example, it’s added to some antibiotics such as tetracycline to keep them from breaking down too quickly after they’re taken by mouth.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers BHT safe for use in foods with no limit on daily intake. However, it does not consider BHT safe for use in cosmetics because it can cause contact dermatitis (irritation of the skin).


Feed supplements containing BHT are used by farmers to help prevent liver disease caused by feeding cows too much grain instead of grass or hay.


In cosmetics, BHT acts as a preservative and antioxidant. It prevents rancidity by acting as an inhibitor of lipid peroxidation.

The most common cosmetics and personal care products containing BHT:

  • Lotion
  • Skin care products
  • Makeup
  • Lipstick
  • Hair oil
  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Body wash
  • Perfume


Food and cosmetic packaging (e.g. polyethylene and polypropylene films) also contain food grade BHT as an antioxidant to prevent aging.

Antioxidative mechanism

In the oxidation process of oils and fats, non-desirable chemicals, such as aldehydes, ketones, and acids, are produced, which not only affect the flavor and color of foods containing oils and fats, but lower quality, shorten shelf life, and even pose health risks to consumers.

They share the same antioxidative mechanism as phenolic antioxidants. As an inhibitor of free radical-mediated processes, BHT prevents the oxidative rancidity of oils and fats by providing hydrogen ions that scavenge free radicals, and thus interrupt the chain reaction of oxidation.

Is butylated hydroxytoluene Safe?

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a chemical food additive that is very common in the United States. It is used to preserve fats and oils, improve the shelf life of foods, prevent rancidity and help maintain color in products. BHT may also be used to help prevent the oxidation of polyunsaturated fats that can lead to cancer.

BHT has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 1956, but it has recently come under fire by some consumer advocacy groups who claim that it causes health problems.

Since BHT has been used for so long with no major adverse effects, many people assume that it must be safe for consumption. However, there have been studies done on this chemical that raise some concerns about its safety:

A study published in PlosOne found that BHT could cause an increase in oxidative stress when combined with vitamin C or E supplements. This means that taking these supplements with BHT could actually increase free radical damage in your body rather than prevent it from occurring!


Butylated Hydroxytoluene is generally regarded as safe (GRAS) and used as an antioxidant alone or in combination with BHA with the maximum use level from 0.001% to 0.02% in dry breakfast cereals, as an emulsion stabilizer for shortenings and processed potato products (e.g. flakes, granules, shreds).


Butylated Hydroxytoluene (E321) is listed in Commission Regulation (EU) No 231/2012 as an authorised food additive, categorized as “other additives than colours and sweeteners”.

Safety re-evaluation in 2012

The EFSA concluded that BHT was not genotoxicity, but cancer may be caused at high dosage in some animals. There was an ADI established in 2012 of 0.25 mg/kg bw/day.

Approved uses

This product is primarily used in conjunction with BHA and propyl gallate, with a maximum level of “25-400mg/kg”. It can be used for the following purposes:

  • The fats and oils used in heat-treated foods
  • frying oil, fat from frying and fat from lard, fish oil, beef, poultry, and sheep fat.
  • Chewing gum
  • Seasonings and condiments
  • Food supplements in solid or liquid form (not for infants and small children)

UK Food Standards Agency

This product is categorized under “Antioxidants”

Food Standards Australia New Zealand

The code number 321 identifies it as an approved ingredient in Australia and New Zealand.


Function Class: food additives and antioxidants.

Acceptable daily intake: In 1995, the ADI was set at 0-0.3 mg/kg bw.

How many methyl groups are present in butylated hydroxytoluene?

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), also known as butylhydroxyanisole, is a phenolic antioxidant with the molecular formula C8H6O2.

The chemical formula of butylated hydroxytoluene is C8H6O2. It has two methyl groups and one hydroxyl group attached to its benzene ring, which is also called phenyl ring. The compound has an empirical formula of C14H12O2 which shows that there are 8 Carbon atoms, 12 Hydrogen atoms and 2 Oxygen atoms in each molecule of BHT.

BHT contains two methyl groups attached to its benzene ring at positions 1 and 2 respectively. Each methyl group consists of three carbon atoms bonded together with a single bond; it has a molecular mass of 40 g/mol and can be represented as CH3CH3CH3 or C8H9O2. The number of methyl groups present in BHT is determined by dividing the molecular weight by 2.

How much butylated hydroxytoluene is safe?

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a food additive used to prevent fats and oils from going rancid. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies BHT as generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

BHT is found naturally in many foods, including vegetables, fruits and grains. It’s also produced in small amounts by bacteria in the intestine during digestion.

The National Toxicology Program considers BHT carcinogenic when injected into animals but doesn’t consider it a human carcinogen. There’s some evidence that high doses of BHT are toxic to lab rats, but low doses appear to be safe for humans.

In lab tests using mice and rats, high doses of BHT caused liver cancer and slowed blood clotting time in some animals — two effects not seen at lower doses (3 mg/kg/day). However, these results may not apply to humans because animals metabolize this chemical differently than we do.

Difference Between BHT, BHA, TBHQ, and PG

BHT is butylated hydroxyanisole, a synthetic antioxidant and preservative. It’s often used to preserve fats in foods and cosmetics, as well as to prevent rancidity in oils. BHA can be found in cosmetics, foods with a long shelf life (such as potato chips), and food packaging materials.

BHA is used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of mold, bacteria and yeast. BHA is also used in food products with a long shelf life because it prevents fats from becoming rancid.

TBHQ is tertiary butylhydroquinone, an antioxidant derived from petroleum that’s added to foods and cosmetics to prevent them from going bad too soon. TBHQ can be found in many processed foods such as potato chips, cereals and crackers — these products contain no more than 0.02 percent TBHQ per serving by weight.

TBHQ has been linked to liver cancer in rats when they were given high doses over long periods of time. However, there haven’t been any studies on humans that show TBHQ causes cancer at normal doses or levels of exposure through eating processed foods containing TBHQ or using cosmetics containing it on your skin every day for years on end.

What is the side effects of butylated hydroxytoluene?

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a phenolic antioxidant that has been used in the food industry since the 1930s. It is often added to foods to prevent fats and oils from going rancid, especially when they are exposed to air or heat.

The use of BHT in food processing is regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has not set a maximum level for BHT in any food product because it is considered safe at all levels of consumption.

Side effects from consuming butylated hydroxytoluene may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Flushing of the face and neck with redness
  • Headache

Where to buy butylated hydroxytoluene?

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a chemical compound that acts as an antioxidant and preservative. It is often used in cosmetics, food products and pharmaceuticals due to its ability to prevent rancidity and oxidation.

BHT can be purchased from a variety of vendors including Amazon, eBay, Walmart and other online retailers. However, it is important to note that not all BHT products are made equal. Some manufacturers may use more natural ingredients while others may use harmful chemicals like propylene glycol or parabens.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is butylated hydroxytoluene natural?

 No, butylated hydroxytoluene is not natural. It’s a synthetic chemical that has been used as an antioxidant and preservative in food and cosmetics since the 1920s.

Is butylated hydroxytoluene halal?

BHT is considered halal because it does not contain any pork or alcohol products in its ingredients.

Is butylated hydroxytoluene vegan?

Butylated hydroxytoluene is not vegan because it contains tallow, which is rendered beef or mutton fat. Tallow is also used in some other products that are not considered vegan.

Does butylated hydroxytoluene cause cancer?

In one study, researchers at the National Cancer Institute found that mice who were given high doses of BHT developed liver cancer at a rate that was significantly higher than the control group. The authors concluded that “exposure to BHT… is carcinogenic for male F344 rats.”

However, another study found no link between BHT and cancer. In this case, researchers from the University of Southern California exposed mice to varying levels of BHT and then measured their susceptibility to liver tumors over a period of several months. They found no relationship between BHT exposure and tumor development.


BHT as we know is a food additive used primarily as a preservative for fats and oils. It helps to prevent foods from becoming rancid. Because of its antioxidant properties, it protects food by fighting off the process of oxidation which can affect the shelf life of various nuts, cereals and other foods. 

Foods with BHT are then considered non-perishable, because they have the ability to stay fresh longer without the use of refrigeration or processing. In addition, BHT can also be found in vinyl products and cosmetics. Overall, most experts agree that BHT is safe under normal conditions; however, individuals who suffer from allergies may be affected by it.

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng is the author of gradechemical.com, she is the co-founder of the grade chemical network. She has been in grade chemical company since 2017, with a working knowledge of food chemical .

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