Evaluation of health aspects of kojic acid in food

Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2001 Feb;33(1):80-101. doi: 10.1006/rtph.2000.1442.


Kojic acid is a fungal metabolite commonly produced by many species of Aspergillus, Acetobacter, and Penicillium. The Aspergillus flavus group has traditionally been used in the production of a number of foods, including miso (soybean paste), shoyu (soy sauce), and sake. Kojic acid is widely used as a food additive for preventing enzymatic browning, and in cosmetic preparations as a skin-lightening or bleaching agent. Because kojic acid is often produced during the fermentation of historically used dietary staples, it has a long history of consumption. Various types of compounds, such as glucose, sucrose, acetate, ethanol, arabinose, and xylose, have been used as carbon sources for kojic acid production. Different Aspergillus species are known to produce variable amounts of kojic acid. The mechanism of action of kojic acid is well defined and it has been shown to act as a competitive and reversible inhibitor of animal and plant polyphenol oxidases, xanthine oxidase, and D- and some L-amino acid oxidases. The structure of kojic acid indicates a relatively simple route of metabolism much like dietary hexoses. Acute or subchronic toxicity resulting from an oral dose has not been reported, but convulsions may occur if kojic acid is injected. Results of mutagenicity studies are mixed, but in the in vivo mammalian dominant lethal assay, kojic acid was proven negative. Continuous administration of high doses of kojic acid in mice resulted in induction of thyroid adenomas in both sexes. Kojic acid reversibly affects thyroid function primarily by inhibiting iodine uptake, leading to decreases in T3 and T4 and increase in TSH. Increased TSH from pituitary gland in turn stimulates thyroid hyperplasia. Several lines of evidence indicate that the proliferative effects of kojic acid on thyroid are not related to a genotoxic pathway. The risk of functional inhibition of iodine uptake and its metabolism (organification) and thyroid tumor induction by kojic acid in humans appears to be extremely low. Based on the literature reviewed and discussed here, consumption of kojic acid at levels normally found in food does not present a concern for safety.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Carcinogens / pharmacokinetics
  • Carcinogens / pharmacology
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Cosmetics
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / drug effects
  • Food Contamination
  • Humans
  • Insecticides / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mutagenicity Tests
  • Public Health
  • Pyrones / pharmacokinetics
  • Pyrones / pharmacology
  • Pyrones / toxicity*
  • Rats
  • Skin Pigmentation / drug effects
  • Soybean Proteins*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Carcinogens
  • Cosmetics
  • Insecticides
  • Pyrones
  • Soybean Proteins
  • kojic acid