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

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  • 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.