Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO): Ingredient Watch

What is brominated vegetable oil (BVO)?

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is a complex mixture of plant-derived triglycerides (the main constituent of an human, animal and plant fat) that contain atoms of the element bromine bonded to the molecules. It is derived from soybean or corn, and is primarily used to help to emulsify citrus- flavored soft drinks (although it is present in many other flavors as well), preventing the flavor from separating during distribution and leaving the soft drink murky in color. Without BVO, soft-drink flavoring would float to the surface.

It is also used to slow down the chemical reactions which result in a fire, and as such can be classified as a flame-retardant. As a result, BVO is added to polystyrene foam cushions used in upholstered furniture and children’s products, as well as plastics used in electronics.

Brominated vegetable oil has been used by the soft drink industry since 1931, generally at a level of about eight parts per million (ppm).

What it is made of?


Where is it is found?

Soft drinks

Is BVO bad for us?

In large amounts, yes. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) originally classified BVO as a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) food additive in 1958; however, the classification was withdrawn in the 1970s after studies linked the consumption of BVO with heart disease in rats. It has since been reclassified as an “interim food additive”. This status is pending the outcome of further studies. e use of BVO in food products has now been limited to 15ppm in America.

In South Africa manufacturers are allowed to use “brominated vegetable oils containing not more than 33% bromine, of which the acidity, expressed as hydrobromic acid, does not exceed 1 000 mg/l”, according to the Department of Health and Population Development’s regulation GNR.2527 of 13 November 1987: Governing emulsifiers, stabilizers and thickeners, and the amounts thereof that foodstuffs may contain. Click here to find out which health benefits can be derived from grapeseed oil.

BVO could be toxic

A 1971 study by Canadian researchers found that rats that were fed a diet containing 0,5% brominated oils grew heavy hearts and developed lesions in their heart muscle. In a later study, conducted in 1983, rats fed the same percentage of oils had behavioral problems, and those who were fed 1% had trouble conceiving. When their diets were increased to include 2%, they were unable to reproduce.

BVO as a re-retardant has also come under intense scrutiny due to the fact that recent research has indicated that it is accumulating in people’s bodies, including in breastmilk, and has been linked to impaired neurological development, reduced fertility, early onset of puberty and altered thyroid hormones. There are case reports of adverse effects associated with the excessive consumption of BVO-containing soft drinks. In one instance, professional gamers were reported to have suffered after binge-drinking soda during videogame tournaments. A handful of the gamers needed medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders – all known symptoms of overexposure to bromine.

Another case, reported by a doctor at the University of California in 1997, stated that a man who consumed two to four litres of a soda containing BVO on a daily basis had experienced memory loss, tremors, fatigue, loss of muscle coordination, headaches and ptosis of the right eyelid, as well as elevated levels of serum chloride. In the two-month period that it took to correctly diagnose the problem, the patient also lost his ability to walk. Eventually, bromism was diagnosed and dialysis was prescribed, which resulted in the reversal of the disorder.

And finally, the US National Library of Medicine reports a 2003 case in which a 63-year-old man developed ulcers on swollen hands after drinking eight liters of soft drink every day for several months. The man was diagnosed with bromoderma, a rare skin hypersensitivity to bromine exposure. After abstaining from BVO- containing soft drinks for a number of months, he was able to recover.

Has this ingredient been banned in any countries?

BVO has been banned in Japan, the UK and Europe. It has also been prohibited in India since 1990 and is currently strictly monitored in the US.

What is the healthiest and closest taste substitute for this food item?

Should you wish to minimize your brominated vegetable oil intake, here are a few alternative food options. Replace soft drinks with:

• Sparkling water and cordial.

• Sparkling water and freshly squeezed orange juice;

• Fruit soaking in sparkling water to give it avour (strawberries, apples

etc); and

  • sparkling water and cordial

Click here to find out whether your olive oil really is made out of olives.