Allyl Isothiocyanate

Allyl isothiocyanate is a phytochemical paradox. Few materials used in our industry today present such a complex nature as allyl isothiocyanate and its many other related analogues found in natural products consumed by humans and animals. Isothiocyanates are found in numerous plants and consumed via seeds, foliage and roots or extracts derived from these portions of the plant. Allyl isothiocyanate is just one of these phytochemicals, but an excellent example as it is consumed in far greater amomts than its other isothiocyanate analogues by humans.

In order to illustrate this paradox, one might ask the question: What aroma chemical is used in flavors and fragrances, appears on the FEMA/GRAS list, is not recommended for use in fragrances by IFRA, is toxic, flammable, a strong lachrymator and skin vesicant and may be a key anti-carcinogen? The answer is: allyl isothiocyanate.

This pungent, penetrating, eye tearing, sinus clearing, skin blistering agent is used in many flavors and in “negative” perfumery. It belongs to a group of natural products being studied by the National Cancer Institute’s Diet and Cancer branch in its current research program, as it appears to have potential of preventing cancer in humans and animals. The NCI data indicates that isothiocyanates as a group are one of a class of 14 phytochemicals offering significant hope in preventing the development of cancer and may play a role in the future to construct “designer foods” used to control cancer.

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