Is Smoke Flavoring Safe?

meat smokehouse

photo: County of Lexington, SC

Smoking is a millennia old technique used in many cultures to preserve food. Meats and fish would hang on rungs in a smokehouse over the course of a few hours to days. The meat was preserved by 2 means – dehydration and antimicrobial properties of smoke.

Today, the smoked flavor has become a desirable addition to non-smoked foods. Thanks to modern food technology, you can spot “Natural Smoke Flavor”, “Wood Smoke”, or “Liquid Smoke” as additives in various foods, but not necessarily as a preservative.

Hickory Smoke Flavor

Natural Wood Smoke

The smoke is manufactured through an innovative process that starts with the burning of various types of wood at a high temperature. The smoke is then captured, condensed and filtered, and mixed with water. The liquid smoke can then be used as a flavoring in various foods.

There is a slight problem, though. Compounds in liquid smoke, known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are carcinogens. The European Food Safety Association has conducted research into the various types of smoke flavorings out there. Different levels of PAHs are present in liquid smoke, depending on the type of wood used, and the temperature at which it burned. In most cases, the levels are too low to cause concern.

One type of smoke flavor (out of eleven) did have issues. AM 01 could lead to genotoxicity (damage to the genetic material of cells).

Should this be a cause for concern? Not for someone who occasionally consumes smoked meat or fish. In case you were wondering, the traditional meat smoking method is also fraught with potential for harm due to the same PAHs.


1. EFSA – Smoke Flavorings

  • jadegreen_eyz

    I have often wondered about this when I make my pulled pork which I brine overnight and then slow-bake in the oven. I had previously added it to the brining solution (sits for 12 hours in the fridge) and now just sprinkle it over the meat, mixing it in after I shred it. I use Colgin liquid smoke.

    • Herbi

      The liquid smoke in my quinoa and kale burger is bad for me? Besides the sodium that smoked flavor seems to supercharge my tastebuds. I’ll have to read more

      • Bana “Boobooloon” Narama

        Herbi, I learned in life you need to put everything in perspective. From what I read, you eat healthy, that’s awesome! I cook every single meal, so I do too. Do you live in a city? I think taking a walk while trafic is driving by is as harmful as the liquid smoke you’ve been flavoring your burgers with, but you wouldn’t move to the country for that single reason, would you? Do you work in an office? The air you breath can be full of nasty stuff, but you won’t ask to have the filtering systems changed. You know, you can’t micro-manage every little unhealthy aspect in your life. You’re already eating healthy and that’s the best thing you can do for yourself, but don’t freak out about every little thing. I think we forget to put stuff in perspective sometimes. We focus on one itsy bitsy detail and forget the big picture.

        • PlzThinkAboutWhatYouJustSaid

          Jeannie, saying this with love: If you are constantly exposed to low levels of chemical and other pollutants and toxins on a regular and long term basis what do you think is going to happen? It’s kind of like surrounding yourself with X-ray machines: no single one of them will give you a case of serious raidition poisoning in the short term but if there’s a whole bunch of them all bombarding you with radiation at the same time then sooner rather than later your skin is going to start falling off.
          Reduce chemical exposure as much as possible I reckon and if that means micro-managing and moving to the country then I for one certainly will do it as soon as I’m able to achieve that change….. and I’m planning on doing it! Sick of being sick all the time from city living.

  • Chazz

    I dip it in my cock.Chicks love it!