What Are the Functions of BHA and BHT in Frozen Food?

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BHA and BHT are often used to preserve fats in frozen foods.
BHA and BHT are often used to preserve fats in frozen foods. (Image: Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Frozen food manufacturers often add certain ingredients to their products to prevent them from going bad before consumption. BHA, or butylated hydroxyanisole, and BHT, or butylated hydroxytoluene, are two food additives that are frequently used to preserve fats. Both compounds have similar characteristics to naturally occurring Vitamin E, which is usually removed during the oil processing of fats in food.

BHA

BHA is composed of two organic isomers called isomers 3-tert-butyl-4-hydroxyanisole and 2-tert-butyl-4-hydroxyanisole. It has a waxy consistency and is white or yellow in color. BHA is used in frozen and other foods because it is an antioxidant, meaning that it prevents the fats in food from going rancid when exposed to oxygen. It is fat-soluble, allowing it to combine well with foods that contain shortening and animals fats. It also impedes yeasts from foaming.

BHT

BHT is a white, powdery composition of the organic isomers 4-methylphenol and 2-methylpropene. Like BHA, it is used in fatty foods because of its ability to prevent oxidation and its solubility. It also preserves food color and taste.

Specific Products That Contain BHA And BHT

BHA is used in meats, butter, cereals, some baked goods, beer, dehydrated potatoes and chewing gum. It is also used in several cosmetics and pharmaceutical drugs which contain fats and oils. BHT is usually added to shortenings and cereals.

The Safety Of BHA And BHT

There is some debate about whether BHA and BHT are safe for consumption. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers both compounds to be harmless in the quantities in which they are normally used. In larger amounts, however, they are believed to have carcinogenic effects. Increased volumes of BHT may also have negative interactions with birth control and steroidal hormones.

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