Butylated hydroxyanisole is a food additive much more widely known by its abbreviation, BHA. BHA is an aromatic organic compound with the chemical names of 2- and 3-tert-butyl-4-methoxyphenol. It can exist in either of the two isomeric forms or as a mixture of the two isomers. In its pure form, BHA is a waxy white or pale yellow solid with a melting point of 118.4–131°F (48–55°C) and a boiling point of 507.2–518°F (264–270°C). It is normally insoluble in water, but can be treated in order to make it so.
The chemical property of BHA that is of greatest commercial interest is its tendency to reduce the rate at which other substances undergo oxidation. It has long been used as a preservative in foods containing fats, which turn rancid by oxidation. First used as an antioxidant in 1947, it is now added to a wide variety of foods, including beverages, ice cream, candy, baked goods, instant mashed potatoes, edible fats and oils, breakfast cereals, dry yeast, and sausages. The compound is sometimes used in conjunction with a related antioxidant, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT).
Some studies have found that BHA can produce allergic reactions and, in larger doses, affect liver and kidney functions. The Select Committee on GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) Substances of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported in 1980 that no evidence exists to indicate that BHA is a health hazard. However, it recommended caution in its use and suggested additional studies on possible risks to human health. Currently FDA regulations limit the concentration of BHA in commercial foods to 0.02% in products containing fats and oils and to somewhat higher concentrations in other food products. In spite of current FDA regulations, some nutrition experts have recommended that BHA be banned from use in foods on the grounds that safer antioxidant alternatives are available.