The Butane Taste Fallacy


Butane is this molecule C4H10 four carbons, ten hydrogens. Let's take a look at the flame produced by burning this molecule.

First the hottest part of the flame is the blue at the base (temperature is proportional to the frequency of light). Blue light has a higher frequency (shorter wavelength) than red light.

The blue is caused by the burning (oxidizing) of the hydrogen. These guys love to get together and make water (H2O), that’s why we have so much water on this planet. They do this quickly so the heat they produce causes a high temperature. If you know about entropy (energy, time and equilibrium) this makes sense.

So, just above the blue the hydrogen is gone. Since butane is C4H10, it is impossible for any butane to be here. So, the butane taste is also impossible.

Carbon molecules are the only remaining component of the butane. Now these guys aren’t as anxious to go hang out with some oxygen. In the presence of some heat they are good to go.

Think about it, you never really see any hydrogen hanging around. It has usually hooked up with some other elements, well and it tends to float off. But, carbon, take a look at a pencil, some graphite, the carbon fiber everything, diamonds …

We actually get to burn (oxidize) carbon twice. The first time we get carbon monoxide, the second time carbon dioxide. Burning carbon produces much more energy, but since it is not as anxious to go hang out with oxygen, the reaction time is slower and the temperature doesn’t get as high.

So you say, well I taste something. Yes you are, my friend, but it is NOT butane, agreed. You taste incompletely burned carbon.

A conventional lighter flame sends only butane in to the flame. So the only opportunity for butane to meet up with some oxygen is at the flame surface (outer edges). The blue at the base is really just a relatively thin skin of color and in the center is butane that hasn’t gotten a chance to meet some oxygen yet.

So, lets changes the rules of engagement! Let’s use a torch lighter. Now this uses what is called an injector. Simply, this is some ports (orifices) that use some of Mr. Bernoulli’s stuff to add air, which is approximately 20-21% oxygen, to the butane before it meets the flame.

What this does for you is nice. The butane doesn’t have to wait until it gets to the flame edge to meet oxygen. Oxygen is hanging out right next to the butane. They just need to chemically say hello.

Then, Bam, exothermic reaction! Butane is the limiting reactant. Which means all of the hydrogens to hook up with an oxygen and all of the carbons get to have a 3 way. Lucky guys! And, some oxygens are still hanging around saying “where’s mine?”.

Now, since everyone got to party all at once, it’s starts getting hot in here, ~ 2100 degrees F. Typical lighter flame ~ 1800 degrees F.

More importantly, all the butane becomes carbon dioxide, water and heat. Carbon dioxide is a tasteless, odorless gas. You are breathing some right now. And pure water vapor is tasteless and odorless. We call it humidity.

So properly combusted butane provides an extremely portable, pure, odorless, and tasteless heat source.


Here is another run at it.


The only time you have unburned butane is when there is no flame.
The flame can only exist if the butane burns.

What if all the butane doesn’t burn? Won’t happen!
Here’s why. Butane’s molecular formula is C4H10.
The first to burn is the hydrogen, the blue flame. If you harvested the flame here you could say unburned butane.
But, you would not have enough energy to do Jack. Most energy comes from the carbon.

At this point, without hydrogen, Butane (C4H10) can NOT exist.
You can read about flames.

All that is left is carbon and here are carbon’s options:
• Carbon can burn once, carbon monoxide.
• Burn a second time, carbon dioxide, or
• Not burn at all, called carbon black.

So, how do these taste?
Carbon dioxide is tasteless and odorless.
So is carbon monoxide.
Your hemoglobin likes carbon monoxide ~ 210 times more than oxygen.
With your hemoglobin preoccupied, you basically internally suffocate.
Carbon monoxide poisoning

You get plenty of this great stuff every time you burn. This is a fairly unbiased, maybe even pharmaceutical friendly, source of information.

Back to butane, I ran my lighter for 20 seconds, weighing it before and after. It was a whopping 20 mg. If it were all carbon monoxide, I am better off than smoking a tobacco cigarette.

So, what’s left? The carbon black.
This looks like the irritation culprit. This is the only statement I could find about carbon black and taste

“If while wearing a filter, cartridge or canister respirator, you
can smell, taste, or otherwise detect Carbon Black, or in the
case of a full facepiece respirator you experience eye
irritation, leave the area immediately.”.

It is located here kind of a run for your life away from carbon black warning. But, the taste is not described. I would describe it more like an irritation in the back of my throat. My tongue is pretty much down and out of the way, not positioned well for tasting.