Foods that contain propylene glycol: Debunking the ‘antifreeze’ e-liquid myth

The vaping industry has been the victim of many lies and half-truths over the years, perhaps none more outlandish as the myth that e-liquids are made of antifreeze. While this statement is indeed untrue, its basis might have come from a simple misunderstanding about one of the primary ingredients of vape juice, propylene glycol.  Others within the vaping community blame everyone from Big Tobacco to Big Pharma, the FDA, and even the CDC for spreading such nasty rumors.

The truth is that the e-juices in electronic cigarettes and vaping devices are manufactured from three primary components, none of which is antifreeze.  They are made from a combination of vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, and flavorings.  It’s the propylene glycol that leads to the whole antifreeze conspiracy theory surrounding vaping.

What is propylene glycol?

Propylene glycol is a nearly odorless substance, technically classified as an alcohol.  It has a very faint, sweet aroma, although not enough for the substance to be used as a sweetener. It’s also non-toxic.  And besides e-liquids, propylene glycol can be found in many of our favorite foods in the local grocery store.

  • Flavored teas: If you’ve ever bought flavored tea from Dunkin Donuts, then you’re likely ingesting a bit of propylene glycol.
  • Ice cream: Fans of peppermint ice cream by Eddy’s or one of numerous flavors manufactured by Coldstone Creamery are likely ingesting small amounts of propylene glycol and may not know it.
  • Cake frosting: Betty Crocker has a variety of ready-to-serve cake frostings with propylene glycol as a listed ingredient.
  • Cake mixes: Betty Crocker chocolate cake mix and the yellow variety from Duncan Hines both have trace amounts of crystalized propylene glycol.
  • Food colorings: Many of the McCormick’s food colorings list propylene glycol as the second ingredient on the label.
  • Entenmann’s: Who doesn’t like a good Entenmann’s chocolate cake, lemon coconut cake, or those tasty Little Bites brownies?  Almost everything that Entenmann’s sells contains propylene glycol.  Don’t believe it?  Check the labels. 

Is propylene glycol in antifreeze?

One of the other uses for propylene glycol is for the manufacturing of anti-freeze, which is probably where this terrible myth got its start.  However, the really strange thing is that antifreeze manufacturers specifically chose propylene glycol as an ingredient because it is non-toxic and safer for children and pets who might accidentally consume it. 

Scientists have been studying propylene glycol since the 1940s, usually regarding its potential as an effective germicide.  In fact, a rather well-known scientist by the name of Dr. Theodore Puck concluded that vaporized propylene glycol kills such illness-inducing bacteria as pneumococci, streptococci and staphylococci.  Upon his death in 2005 at the ripe, old age of 89, The New York Times eulogized his passing by highlighting his many discoveries in this field of research.

Propylene glycol is non-toxic, and it is definitely not antifreeze.  Propylene glycol is only an ingredient of antifreeze.  Keep in mind, antifreeze is also comprised of water.  So, to claim that propylene glycol is antifreeze is like saying that any food containing water is tantamount to ingesting antifreeze, as well.  Sounds ridiculous, right?


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