Tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) has been commonly used as a synthetic food antioxidant to prevent oils and fats from oxidative deterioration and rancidity due to its potent anti-lipid peroxidation activity. In North America, the maximum level of tBHQ allowed in fat products is 0.02% with an acceptable daily intake of 0 - 0.7 mg/kg body weight. Extensive studies have demonstrated that tBHQ exhibit anti-carcinogenic effect. The ability of tBHQ to induce phase II xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes through an Nrf2-dependent pathway is thought to be responsible for the observed protective effect of tBHQ. It has been proposed that tBHQ enhances Nrf2-mediated transcription by promoting reactive oxygen species-mediated dissociation of Nrf2-Keap1, Nrf2 stabilization, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt activity, and MAPK pathway activation. In contrast to the beneficial effects of tBHQ, a number of studies have shown that chronic exposure to tBHQ may induce carcinogenicity. However, the precise mechanisms of tBHQ carcinogenicity are not well understood. The toxicity or carcinogenicity of tBHQ has been attributed to the formation of reactive GSH-conjugates, generation of reactive species, CYP1A1 induction, caspase activation and reduced GSH/ATP levels. This review provides an account of recent mechanisms proposed for both chemoprotective and carcinogenic effect of tBHQ.