Diacetyl is a naturally occurring organic chemical compound. Its composition is usually a green and yellow liquid form and mixed into food products it is known to create a strong and very intense buttery mouthfeel and flavor. While Diacetyl is created as a byproduct in some beverages containing alcohol, it is not used purposely in these products. Its primary use is to create a butter flavor where one wouldn’t naturally exist, or it is used to enhance an existing butter flavor to bolden its sensory impact.
The Negative Health Impacts of Diacetyl
The United States-based NIOSH, or National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, has repeatedly warned companies that use diacetyl in their manufacturing processes that it is likely very harmful to anyone put into a position where they may inhale the heated chemical over a long duration of time. There have been numerous cases brought about where workers in manufacturing plants have complained of suffering respiratory ailments as a result of long-term exposure to high heated diacetyl.
The Dangers of Inhaling Diacetyl
Diacetyl used to make artificial popcorn butter has been linked to many cases of a rare form of lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans. It has been proven that the disease develops through long-term exposure to high heated diacetyl, especially the variety used in popcorn products, and it has even resulted in a diacetyl lawsuit. The disease is so common amongst manufacturing workers who produce popcorn, that the disease is often referred to as “popcorn worker’s lung”.
Diacetyl in Popcorn and Other Foods
Most consumers are unaware of the fact that the buttery flavor and mouthfeel that they are accustomed to experiencing with certain popcorn products is actually the result of adding diacetyl to it, rather than it being caused by actual butter. Diacetyl mimics the flavor of butter, but it doesn’t possess the same chemical makeup of the substance. Many other foods, such as dessert products like cookies, cakes, and pastries also contain diacetyl.
When acetoin and diacetyl are both present they form the basis for butter’s most familiar attribute. If a product contains any form of artificial butter additives or margarine then chances are almost certain that such a product will contain at least trace amounts of diacetyl. Diacetyl combined with beta-carotene is typically how the chemical is mixed to give it a similar aesthetic look as real butter.
FDA Claims About Diacetyl Are Concerning
The FDA has claimed for years that they have not been able to prove conclusively that diacetyl is harmful in any way to consumers or manufacturing workers exposed to the chemical when it’s high heated. Contrary to the FDA’s claims, several studies have been done on diacetyl, such as the In Vitro study published in 2012, which concluded that not only does high heated diacetyl cause lung damage to research-based rats and mice, but it has also been conclusively linked to negative processes in the body known to trigger Alzheimer’s disease.
The Dangers of Diacetyl in E-cigarette Liquids
A 2014 consumer report found that numerous sweet flavored e-cigarette liquids contained trace amounts of diacetyl, however, these amounts were still high enough to potentially cause lung damage. While diacetyl has been approved by the FDA and European Commission for use in food products, the chemical has never been authorized for use in products meant for inhalation. The consumer report concluded that consumer protection measures should be urgently passed in order to ensure that diacetyl is banned from use in e-cigarette liquids or any other product intended to be inhaled by a consumer.