Sunday, October 16, 2011

Is Liquid Smoke Safe? Is Liquid Smoke Healthy? Is Liquid Smoke Carcinogenic?

Is Liquid Smoke Safe? Is Liquid Smoke Healthy? Is Liquid Smoke Carcinogenic?
Erin Chamerlik, MS, MT(ASCP)
I found a recipe I wanted to use but noticed that it contained bottled liquid smoke. It is hard to get that smokey flavor when we don't BBQ food. Is liquid smoke safe to use?
Many products contain MSG, but not all do. Let's assume you are using a product without MSG or other ingredients that may contain free glutamates and labeled as "natural flavor" or "artificial flavor".
How is liquid smoke made (when it is not made with chemicals)?

From the Colgin website we read, "Colgin Liquid Smoke is ... genuine wood smoke "liquefied." The wood is placed in large retorts (1) where intense heat is applied, causing the wood to smolder (not burn). (2)
Have you ever seen meat smoked in the old-fashioned way, in a smoke house? If so, you saw drops of dark brown liquid forming on the meat. That was smoke that had condensed into liquid form. Colgin Natural Liquid Smoke is produced by burning fresh cut hickory, mesquite, apple, and pecan wood chips at extremely high temperatures and moisture levels."
What Does the Science Tell Us?
Researchers from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, Michigan State University, 1993 published a study, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in smoked food products and commercial liquid smoke flavourings.
  • 18 commercial liquid smoke products and seasonings were analyzed for the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), both carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic PAHs.
  • The study concluded: "In liquid smoke flavorings and seasonings, total PAH concentrations ranged from 6.3 to 43.7 micrograms/kg, with the carcinogenic PAHs ranging from 0.3 to 10.2 micrograms/kg."
  • Published in the journal, Food Additives & Contaminants. 1993 Sep-Oct;10(5):503-21.

Another study looked at PAH concentration from different wood sources used to obtain the liquid smoke. Read it here. J Agric Food Chem. 2000 Oct;48(10):5083-7.

Concentrations of PAHs in smoked foods has been found to be higher in home "wild" smoked products and smoked farm products. (Safety Analysis of Foods of Animal Origin)

This information is widely discussed in Europe:

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says one of the flavorings used to give smoke flavour to meat, cheese or fish, may be toxic to humans.


The authority looked at 11 smoke flavourings commonly used in the European Union.
It says several of the flavourings are dangerously close to levels which may cause harm to humans.
The European Commission will now establish a list of smoke-flavouring products that are safe for use in food.
The smoke flavourings are products which can be added to foods to give them a "smoked" flavour, as an alternative to traditional smoking.
EFSA says it "cannot rule out concerns" about a flavouring called Primary Product AM 01, which is obtained from beech wood.
The wood particles are burnt under controlled conditions and the hot vapours are dissolved in a solvent.
The Panel says the use of the substance "at the intended levels is a safety concern".
Klaus-Dieter Jany, the chair of EFSA's expert panel on flavourings (CEF Panel) said: "The Panel based its conclusions on the limited data which are currently available as well as conservative - or cautious - intake estimates.
"The Panel expressed safety concerns for several smoke flavourings where intake levels could be relatively close to the levels which may cause negative health effects.
"However, this does not necessarily mean that people consuming these products will be at risk as, in order to be on the safe side, the consumption estimates deliberately over-estimate intake levels."
A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation which represents smoked food manufacturers said: "We shall be working with FSA and the European Commission in the coming weeks to consider how smoke flavourings may continue to be used safely, noting EFSA's previous statements in respect of smoke flavourings that their safety is relatively high compared to traditional smoking methods." - BBC News
I do not see anything that convinces me that liquid smoke is completely safe to use.


  1. So glad to see this question addressed! I recently watched an episode of a very popular cooking show on PBS and was surprised to see them use liquid smoke in a recipe. Of course, that show also uses RBD oil (refined, bleached, deodorized vegetable oil), so ... safety doesn't seem to be an issue to them.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. The new electronic cigarette is already a very popular item. Because of this, many different types have been created. This can be great because it offers many different options for all different types of people.
      Electronic cigarettes
      e-cigarette talk
      reviews of electric cigarettes

  4. I'm glad I finally took the time to look up liquid smoke. I'm convinced from this article and others that we shouldn't eat it, and we should never give anything to our pets that has liquid smoke in it. I recently bought some cans of Castor and Pollux dog food. When I opened the first can it had that unmistakable odor of smoke. Really? This very expensive food has to have smoke added to interest a dog?
    I called the phone number on the can and spoke with a woman in Texas. It was Texas because Castor and Pollux has been bought out by Merrick's. The woman assured me that the "natural flavor" mentioned in the list of ingredients is not smoke and that the liquid smoke her company adds to their Castor and Pollux dog treats is not smoke but other ingredients that taste like smoke. Ah-huh. Sure. Liquid smoke is smoke, and whether it is less carcinogenic than smoke smoke is beside the point. I pity the dogs that eat food with liquid smoke added on a daily basis. Cancer is a growing problem for
    dogs as well as humans, and since dogs' lives are comparatively short we need to protect them from this sort of unnecessary danger. This canned dog food is going back to the store, and I'm going to discuss this with the store manager. It's a health food co-op!

    1. Try Core Wellness. My 15 year old cat has been on this for a year now. I also give him Standard Process vitamins because now have a animal line that it holistic. My chiropractor carried them too. I highly recommend them. You can find them on Amazon. I agree...the ingredients in food for both people and animals is garbage.