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Structural formula of hydroxymethylfurfural
Ball-and-stick model of the hydroxymethylfurfural molecule
Space-filling model of the hydroxymethylfurfural molecule
Preferred IUPAC name
Other names
5-(Hydroxymethyl)furfural (no longer recommended)[1]
3D model (JSmol)
ECHA InfoCard 100.000.595
Molar mass 126.11 g/mol
Appearance Low melting white solid
Odor buttery, caramel,
Density 1.29 g/cm3
Melting point 30 to 34 °C (86 to 93 °F; 303 to 307 K)
Boiling point 114 to 116 °C (237 to 241 °F; 387 to 389 K) (1 mbar)
UV-vismax) 284 nm[2]
Related compounds
Related furan-2-carbaldehydes


GHS pictograms GHS-pictogram-exclam.svg[3]
GHS signal word Warning[3]
H315, H319, H335[3]
P261, P305+351+338, P310[3]
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
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Infobox references

Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), also 5-(hydroxymethyl)furfural, is an organic compound formed by the dehydration of certain sugars.[4][5] It is a white low-melting solid (although commercial samples are often yellow) which is highly soluble in both water and organic solvents. The molecule consists of a furan ring, containing both aldehyde and alcohol functional groups.

HMF can form in sugar-containing food, particularly as a result of heating or cooking and this formation has been the topic of significant study as HMF is regarded as being potentially carcinogenic to humans.[6] Hydroxymethylfurfural is a marker of poor or overlong storage of foods such as honey. It is produced industrially on a modest scale[7] as a carbon-neutral feedstock for the production of fuels[8] and other chemicals.[9]

Production and reactions[edit]

HMF was first reported in 1875 as an intermediate in the formation of levulinic acid from sugar and sulfuric acid.[10] This remains the classical route, with 6-carbon sugars (hexoses) such as fructose undergoing acid catalyzed poly-dehydration.[11][12] When hydrochloric acid is used 5-chloromethylfurfural is produced instead of HMF. Similar chemistry is seen with 5-carbon sugars (pentoses), which react with aqueous acid to form furfural.

fructopyranose 1, fructofuranose 2, two intermediate stages of dehydration (not isolated) 3,4 and finally HMF 5

The classical approach tends to suffer from poor yields as HMF is not stable in aqueous acid and will continue to react, eventually forming levulinic acid, gamma-valerolactone, or other byproducts.[4] As sugar is not generally soluble in solvents other than water the development of high-yielding reactions has been slow and difficult; hence while furfural has been produced on a large scale since the 1920s,[13] hydroxymethylfurfural was not produced on a commercial scale until over 90 years later, with the first production plant coming online in 2013.[7] Numerous synthetic technologies have been developed, including the use of ionic liquids,[14] continuous liquid-liquid extraction, reactive distillation and solid acid catalysts to either remove the HMF before it reacts further or to otherwise promote its formation and inhibit its decomposition.[15]


HMF itself has few applications and it is primarily produced in order to be converted into other more useful compounds.[9] Of these the most important is 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid, which has been proposed as a replacement for terephthalic acid in the production of polyesters.[16] HMF can be converted to 2,5-dimethylfuran (DMF), a liquid that is a potential biofuel with a greater energy content than bioethanol. Hydrogenation gives 2,5-bis(hydroxymethyl)furan. Acid-catalysed hydrolysis converts HMF into gamma-valerolactone, with loss of formic acid.[5][4]

Occurrence in food[edit]

HMF is practically absent in fresh food, but it is naturally generated in sugar-containing food during heat-treatments like drying or cooking. Along with many other flavor- and color-related substances, HMF is formed in the Maillard reaction as well as during caramelization. In these foods it is also slowly generated during storage. Acid conditions favour generation of HMF.[17] HMF is a well known component of baked goods. Upon toasting bread, the amount increases from 14.8 (5 min.) to 2024.8 mg/kg (60 min).[5]

It is a good wine storage time−temperature marker,[18] especially in sweet wines such as Madeira[19] and those sweetened with grape concentrate arrope.[20]

As an unwanted component[edit]

Phallus indusiatus. Cooktown, Queensland, Australia. The fruiting body contains hydroxymethylfurfural

HMF can be found in low amounts in honey, fruit-juices and UHT-milk. Here, as well as in vinegars, jams, alcoholic products or biscuits HMF can be used as an indicator for excess heat-treatment. For instance, fresh honey contains less than 15 mg/kg—depending on pH-value and temperature and age,[21] and the codex alimentarius standard requires that honey have less than 40 mg/kg HMf to guarantee that the honey has not undergone heating during processing, except for tropical honeys which must be below 80 mg/kg.

Higher quantities of HMF are found naturally in coffee and dried fruit. Several types of roasted coffee contained between 300 – 2900 mg/kg HMF.[22] Dried plums were found to contain up to 2200 mg/kg HMF. In dark beer 13.3 mg/kg were found,[23] bakery-products contained between 4.1 – 151 mg/kg HMF.[24]

It can be found in glucose syrup.

HMF can form in high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), levels around 20 mg/kg HMF were found, increasing during storage or heating.[21] This is a problem for American beekeepers because they use HFCS as a source of sugar when there are not enough nectar sources to feed honeybees, and HMF is toxic to them. Adding bases such as soda ash or potash to neutralize the HFCS slows the formation of HMF.[21]

Depending on production-technology and storage, levels in food vary considerably. To evaluate the contribution of a food to HMF intake, its consumption-pattern has to be considered. Coffee is the food that has a very high relevance in terms of levels of HMF and quantities consumed.

HMF is a natural component in heated food but usually present in low concentrations. The daily intake of HMF may underlie high variations due to individual consumption-patterns. It has been estimated that in a western diet, in the order of magnitude of 5 – 10 mg of HMF are ingested per day from food.[17]

HMF was used in food for flavoring purposes, but in Europe this practice now is suspended.[25]

HMF is also found in cigarette smoke.


A major metabolite in humans is 5-hydroxymethyl-2-furoic acid (HMFA), which is excreted in urine. HMF can also be metabolized to 5-sulfoxymethylfurfural (SMF), which is highly reactive and can form adducts with DNA or proteins. In vitro tests and studies on rats suggest potential toxicity and carcinogenicity of HMF.[citation needed] In humans, no correlation between intakes of HMF and disease is known.

HMF has been found to bind specifically with intracellular sickle hemoglobin (HbS). Preliminary in vivo studies using transgenic sickle mice showed that orally administered 5HMF inhibits the formation of sickled cells in the blood.[26] Under the development code Aes-103, HMF has been considered for the treatment of sickle cell disease.[27]


Today, HPLC with UV-detection is the reference-method (e.g. DIN 10751-3). Classic methods for the quantification of HMF in food use photometry. The method according to White is a differential UV-photometry with and without sodium bisulphite-reduction of HMF (AOAC 980.23). Winkler photometric method is a colour-reaction using p-toluidine and barbituric acid (DIN 10751-1). Photometric test may be unspecific as they may detect also related substances, leading to higher results than HPLC-measurements. Test-kits for rapid analyses are also available (e.g. Reflectoquant HMF, Merck KGaA).[28][29]


HMF is an intermediate in the titration of hexoses in the Molisch's test. In the related Bial's test for pentoses, the hydroxymethylfurfural from hexoses may give a muddy-brown or gray solution, but this is easily distinguishable from the green color of pentoses.

AMF,[30] acetoxymethyl furfural, is also bio-derived green platform chemicals as an alternative to HMF.


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