Is Liquid Smoke Safe to Eat?

For the record, no, it's not the same as eating burnt food.

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August 02, 2019

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You've probably heard the news that it's not a great idea to consume burnt food. According to research, charring causes the formation of HAAs, which has been linked to cancer in animal studies. So what about liquid smoke? It’s been on store shelves for ages but now home cooks have some questions. What is actually in this smoky liquid and more importantly, is it safe to consume? Find out everything you need to know, including how safe it is to use, below.

What Is Liquid Smoke?

Believe it or not this yellowish brown liquid is actually made from (wait for it) smoke! Wood chips are burned and the smoke is captured and condensed. Some sources go a step further and explain the whole process, including the removal of any potentially carcinogenic polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that may be created through the burning and condensing processes. Some carcinogenic PAHs are created in the process, however liquid smoke it filtered twice in order to remove much of them.

Once the smoke is captured, a variety of flavorings or colorings may be added. Common add-ins include molasses, vinegar, caramel color and salt, but you can find some brands that contain only water and smoke concentrate. It is also a common ingredient in marinades and bottled sauces.

A few drops of liquid smoke infuses whatever it touches with flavors reminiscent of foods cooked over a hickory or mesquite wood fire. Proponents of these tiny bottles of flavor would sing its praises as it adds that slow cooked flavor with just a few drops. Contrary to popular belief, most varieties contain very little sodium. According to research, it may even have antimicrobial properties.

Is Liquid Smoke Safe?

Rumors continue to swirl about the dangers of liquid smoke. While it has been determined that liquid smoke contains potentially harmful naturally existing plant compounds knowns as pyrogallol-like polyphenols or PLPs (which are also found in tea and coffee), they may not wreak havoc for liquid smoke lovers. A study published in 2014 found there may be substances naturally found in saliva and blood that may ward off any potential damage from PLPs. Another thing to consider is the dose: Liquid smoke is potent, a drop or two is typically all that is needed to impart flavor.

How Should I Use Liquid Smoke?

Is there a place for liquid smoke in your kitchen? It complements more recipes than you might think. Add that one of a kind flavor to soups, roasted meats and marinades. Use it as your secret ingredient in macaroni salad, onion dip and, of course, beef jerky. And it’s not just for meat, splash a few dashes on veggie burgers and grilled vegetables.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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