Furfural in distilled beverages

Furfural in distilled beverages.

Furfural is a compound derived from ethanol, which, if found in high amounts in alcoholic beverages, can cause severe discomfort. During the production of distilled beverages, furfural (and hydroxymethyl furfural) is a by-product that may be involved as a fermentation inhibitor.

In what part of the distillation process is furfural produced?

It occurs mainly during hydrolysis (breakdown of molecules in aqueous solution), where fermentation occurs. The raw materials to produce distilled beverages contain carbohydrates, which need hydrolysis to obtain sugars (mostly fructose). These carbohydrates are a whole set of different compounds, from which problems can arise when hydrolyzing them due to their different conditions (short, long, branched chains, etc.). Single chain carbohydrate sugars can caramelize during complex chain hydrolysis, and during this reaction, secondary compounds such as furfural are generated. (1). That is why this stage of the process (hydrolysis) is considered complicated, and it is important to have good control of this operation to avoid excessive production of furfural.

It is also important to emphasize that furfural is part of all distilled beverages such as tequila, rum, whiskey, mezcal, etc. It cannot be removed in its entirety, but it can be reduced in the amount present in distilled beverages.

What is the maximum furfural limit that any distilled beverage should have?

The standard that establishes the limits for furfural content in distilled beverages is the “Official Mexican Standard NOM-142-SSA1 / SCFI-2014 Alcoholic Beverages. Sanitary specifications Sanitary and commercial labeling. (2)”This standard establishes a maximum limit for furfural of 4 mg per 100 ml of anhydrous alcohol.

The symptoms that a person may present when ingesting a drink with a high content of furfural are: headache, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain and general discomfort. Consuming distilled beverages with high levels of furfural can cause severe long-term liver problems (3).

Furfural is then a fundamental part in the composition of distilled beverages, however, a control of the concentrations of this compound must be established so as not to cause harm to consumers.

Activated carbon is an excellent option for the reduction of furfural, as well as for the reduction of unwanted compounds, while maintaining the profile of the distilled beverage desired by the producer.


  1. Tequila Regulatory Council. Tequila Production Process. CRT. [Online] CRT, 2019. https://www.crt.org.mx/index.php/es/el-tequila-3/elaboracion-normativa/63-proceso-de-elaboracion-de-tequila.
  2. Official Mexican STANDARD NOM-142-SSA1 / SCFI-2014, Alcoholic beverages. Sanitary specifications. Sanitary and commercial labeling. Health Secretary. sl: Official Gazette of the Federation, 2015.
  3. New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. Furfural. Fact Sheet on Hazardous Substances. [Online] New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, January 2000. http://nj.gov/health/eoh/rtkweb/documents/fs/0953.pdf. 98-01-1

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