What are some solvents that can be used in plant extraction that meet food standards? Can Acetone be used as a plant extract in food?


Solvents for Plant Compounds Extraction

Specific parts of plants such as leaves, flowers, bark, seeds, fruits and root contain many active ingredients such as alkaloids, steroids, volatile oils, phenols, flavonoids and etc.The use of appropriate solvents is crucial for plant extraction.

According to studies, the types of phytochemicals extracted in various solvents are as follows:

Solvent Type of Phytochemicals
Cyclohexane Waxes, Fats
Hexane Waxes, Fats
Dichloromethane Terpenoids, Alkaloids, Aglycones
Ethylacetate Alkaloids, Aglycones, Glycosides
Acetone Flavanols, Alkaloids, Aglycones
Ethanol Tannins, Polyphenols, Flavonol, Terpenoids, Sterols, Alkaloids, Polyacetylenes, Propolis
Methanol Saponins, Tannins, Phenones, Flavones, Sugars, Aminoacids, Anthocyanins, Terpenoids, Xanthoxyllines, Totarol, Quassinoids, Lactones, Polyphenols
Water Sugar, Aminoacids, Saponins, Tannins, Lectins, Terpenoids, Anthocyanins, Starches, Polypeptides
Liquefied Carbon dioxide Decaffeination of green coffee beans or tea, preparation of leaf extracts, extraction of spices, herbs, essential oils, pungent constituents, natural colorants, antioxidants, fatty oils.

(Houghton & Raman, 1998; Cowan, 1999; Hans-Jőrg Bart, 2011).


Food Standard for Extraction Solvent (European Union)

According to the European Union, the following solvents are allowed if the products are to be used with foods:

(a) Water (with admixture of acids or base)

(b) Solvents like propane, butane, ethyl acetate, ethanol, carbon dioxide, acetone, nitrous oxide.

These solvents are to be used in compliance with good manufacturing practice for all uses.(1)

Ethyl acetate
Carbon dioxide
Nitrous oxide

(1) An extraction solvent is considered as being used in compliance with good manufacturing practice if its use results only in the presence of residues or derivatives in technically unavoidable quantities presenting no danger to human health.

(2) The use of Acetone in the refining of olive-pomace oil is forbidden.

(c) Extraction solvents for which conditions of use are specified

Solvent Conditions of use (summary description of extraction) Maximum residue limits in the extracted food ingredients
Hexane(1) Production or fractionation of fats and oils and production of cocoa butter 1mg/kg in fat, oil or cocoa butter
Preparation of defatted protein products and defatted flours 10mg/kg in food containing defatted protein products and defatted flours
30mg/kg in the defatted soya products as sold to the final consumer
Preparation of defatted cereal germs 5mg/kg in defatted cereal germs
Methyl acetate Decaffeination of, or removal of irritants and bitterings from coffee and tea 20mg/kg in coffee or tea
Production of sugar from molasses 1mg/kg in sugar
Ethylmethylketone(2) Fractionation of fats and oils 5mg/kg in fat or oil
Decaffeination of, or removal of irritants and bitterings from coffee and tea 20mg/kg in coffee or tea
Dichloromethane Decaffeination of, or removal of irritants and bitterings from coffee and tea 2mg/kg in roasted coffee and 5mg/kg in tea
Methanol For all uses 10mg/kg
Propan-2-ol For all uses 10mg/kg

(1) Hexane means a commercial product consisting essentially of acyclic saturated hydrocarbons containing six carbon atoms and distilling between 640C and 700C. The combined use of Hexane and Ethylmethylketone is forbidden.

(2) The level of n-Hexane in this solvent should not exceed 50mg/kg. The combined use of Hexane and Ethylmethylketone is forbidden.

(d) Extraction solvents in the preparation of flavourings from natural flavouring materials.

Solvent Maximum residue limits (mg/kg)
Diethyl ether 2
Hexane(1) 1
Cyclohexane 1
Methyl acetate 1
Butan-1-ol 1
Butan-2-ol 1
Ethylmethylketone(1) 1
Dichloromethane 0.02
Propan-1-ol 1
1,1,1,2-tetrafluroethane 0.02

(1) The combined use of Hexane and Ethylmethylketone is forbidden

(The Council Of The European Union, 2009).



Bart, H. J. (2011). Extraction of Natural Products from Plants – An Introduction.

Cowan, M. M. (1999). Plant products as antimicrobial agents. Clinical Microbiology, 12, 564-582.

Gupta, A., Naraniwal, M. & Kothari, V. (2012). Modern Extraction Methods For Preparation Of Bioactive Plant Extracts. International Journal of Applied and Natural Sciences, 1(1), 8-26.

Houghton, P. J., Raman, A. (1998). Laboratory Handbook for the Fractionation of Natural Extracts. London: Chapman and Hall.

The Council Of The European Union. (2009). Approximation of the laws of the Member States on extraction solvents used in the production of foodstuffs and food ingredients (Directive 2009/32/EC).

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