Today, you can spot natural smoke flavor in various foods to preserve them, as well as increasing their palatability by imparting a rich brown color and adding flavor.
When you talk of barbecue flavors, grilled meat and fish are what come to mind. It, therefore, only makes sense for a vegan to wonder what this ingredient is all about.
Is smoke flavor vegan?
Yes, smoke flavor is generally considered vegan-friendly. The natural smoke flavor is simply real smoke that has been captured from burning woods and condensed. The end-product is a clean, all-natural smoke-flavored liquid that gives a barbecue flavor. Animal-sourced products are rarely if ever, added when making this ingredient.
The natural smoke flavor is quite a controversial condiment. Health experts often voice concern over the possible health risks while barbecue purists give it a strong nay. But despite all that, the marketing trends are showing that natural smoke flavor is becoming more and more popular as a flavor additive.
I have done some research on this common food additive and hopefully, by the end of this text, you will be able to make an informed decision about whether or not to include it in your current diet or consume foods that contain it. Without much delay, let’s get right into the discussion.
How is natural smoke flavor made?
The origin of natural smoke flavor dates back to 1985. Ernest H. Wright discovered that when hot smoke from fire came into contact with the cool air above, a smoke-flavored liquid was formed that could be collected, purified, and used for cooking purposes.
Today’s natural smoke flavor is manufactured through an innovative process that involves burning various types of wood at a high temperature. Hardwoods like pecan, hickory, and mesquite are typically used to produce the taste and smell of the real wood-fired grill. The smoke is channeled through a condenser, which quickly cools the vapor causing it to liquefy. The liquid is then distilled and filtered to remove impurities, which are soot and ash. What is left is a yellowish-brown liquid that has a concentrated essence of smoke. Alternatively, the liquid can be dehydrated to make natural smoke flavor in powder form.
What makes natural smoke flavor vegan-friendly?
As natural smoke flavor is primarily made from just smoke and water, therefore makes it 100% vegan-friendly. But it should be noted that some manufacturers add seasonings, colorings, and flavorings. Common add-ins include vinegar, caramel color, sugar (sometimes considered non-vegan due to the use of bone char), salt, soy, paprika and other spices, molasses, etc.
Since commercially produced natural smoke flavor can have added ingredients or chemicals, which may not be safe for your dietary restrictions, it’s best to always read the label before purchase to ensure it is 100% vegan.
Uses for natural smoke flavor
There are plenty of ways to use natural smoke flavor. For those who don’t have a smoker or grill but want to prepare some vegan smoked recipes, brushing a few drops of liquid smoke on the food or using it in a marinade is all you’ll need to get that much-desired barbecue flavor.
Liquid smoke has such a concentrated taste, so it should be used sparingly –no more than ¼ teaspoon. If you want a more subtle flavor, dilute it with some water or vinegar. Keep in mind that natural smoke flavor tastes differently, depending on the type of wood used to produce the smoke. Those with added ingredients will often take a more artificial flavor.
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What if you don’t include liquid smoke in your diet? Well, it’s still hard to avoid it completely because it’s widely used in commercial food production to give different foods a wonderful smoky taste and aroma without having to grill them. Additionally, the smoke has natural bacteria-killing properties that improve food’s shelf life.
Nutrition and benefits of natural smoke flavor
Natural smoke flavor allows you to add flavor to your dish without investing too much time and effort and without adding any fats and calories. And, contrary to popular belief, it contains low levels of sodium, between 0-10 milligrams per serving. This is, of course, for the simple natural smoke flavor and not the kind that includes additional ingredients. Read the labels carefully!
Natural smoke flavor has effectively replaced the traditional smoking method that involved long cooking hours. It uses less wood and includes additional flavoring ingredients that provide an even better smoky flavor and texture to foods.
Is natural smoke flavor safe?
As we’ve seen before, this food additive is made by passing wood fumes into a condenser where the vapor is liquefied. Smoke, no matter the source, contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are considered carcinogenic. While it’s true that some PAHs are created in the process of making natural smoke flavor, the liquid goes through filtration to remove impurities. But some of these cancer-causing chemicals may still persist in the extract.
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Does this make natural smoke flavor a potential cancer risk? Not really. Natural smoke flavors contain different levels of PAHs, depending on the type of wood used and the temperature at which it was burned. Even so, experts agree that the concentration of these cancer-causing chemicals in natural smoke flavor is far too low to cause concern. The recommended maximum daily PAHs intake is 47 ng/day and most natural smoke flavors contain about 0.8-1.1 ng per teaspoon. Most recipes will require you to use ¼ teaspoon of this food additive, so you should be safe if you are consuming just the normal amount.
Secondly, liquid smoke is said to contain pyrogallol-like polyphenols (PLPs), which are potentially harmful naturally existing plant compounds often found in tea and coffee. The good news is there are substances in the blood and saliva that may naturally prevent any potential damage from PLPs.
Another study found that some brands of natural smoke flavor activated P53 protein activity nearly as much as chemo drugs that are specifically intended to cause DNA damage. But these were high amounts of liquid smoke. This should, therefore, not be a cause for concern if you are consuming the normal amounts as stated above.
Summary: Vegans and natural smoke flavor
When you think of a smoky flavor, the first thing that comes to mind is perhaps grilled meat or fish. Many vegans, especially the new ones who are still craving meat, often miss the smoky flavor.
But with the increasing plant-based substitutes for otherwise animal-based products, vegans no longer have to sacrifice their previous favorite foods and treats. This is seen with vegan meat, vegan candy, and several other vegan junk foods. And, from this text, it’s evident that the smoky flavor is no exception.
The natural smoke flavor is generally a great and suitable product for vegans. And, while there are a few concerns, I wouldn’t worry about them because only a drop or two is needed to impart flavor. This is far too low to cause harm to the body. It may, however, be worth avoiding natural smoke flavor if you have a history of cancer.
If you find otherwise vegan foods with natural smoke flavor as one of the listed ingredients, you can consume them without any guilt. And, don’t forget to include the liquid smoke in your vegan recipes for an excellent aroma and smoky flavor.