Smoking is an old millennial technique that was used to preserve food and also provide a nice smoky flavour. But how can you achieve this in non-grilled foods? Well, thanks to modern food technology, one way that has been successful at bringing the much-loved barbecue flavour in food is using natural smoke flavour.
Today, you can spot natural smoke flavour in various foods for the purposes of preserving them, as well as increasing their palatability by imparting a rich brown colour and adding flavour. When you talk of barbecue flavours, grilled meat and fish are what comes to mind. It, therefore, only makes sense for a vegan to wonder what this ingredient is all about.
Is natural smoke flavour vegan? Yes, it is generally considered vegan-friendly. The natural smoke flavour is simply real smoke that has been captured from burning woods and condensed. The end-product is a clean, all-natural smoke flavoured liquid that gives a barbecue flavour. Animal-sourced products are rarely if ever, added when making this ingredient.
The natural smoke flavour 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 flavour is becoming more and more popular as a flavour additive. Why? You may wonder. Well, 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 Flavour Made?
The origin of natural smoke flavour dates back to 1985. Ernest H. Wright discovered that when hot smoke from fire came into contact with the cool air above, a smoke-flavoured liquid was formed that could be collected, purified, and used for cooking purposes.
Today’s natural smoke flavour 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 channelled through a condenser, which quickly cools the vapour causing it to liquefy. The liquid is then distilled and filtered to remove impurities, which are basically 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 flavour in powder form.
What makes it vegan-friendly?
From the text above, it’s evident that natural smoke flavour is primarily made from just smoke and water, which makes it 100% vegan-friendly. But it should be noted that some manufacturers add seasonings, colourings, and flavourings. Common add-ins includes vinegar, caramel colour, 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 flavour 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.
There are plenty of ways to use natural smoke flavour. 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 in a marinade is all you’ll need to get that much-desired barbecue flavour.
Liquid smoke has such a concentrated taste, so it should be used sparingly –no more than ¼ teaspoon. If you want a more subtle flavour, dilute it with some water or vinegar. Keep in mind that natural smoke flavour tastes differently, depending on the type of wood used to produce the smoke. Those with added ingredients will often take a more artificial flavour.
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 foods shelf life.
Nutrition and Benefits
Natural smoke flavour allows you to add flavour 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 flavour and not the kind that includes additional ingredients. Read the labels carefully!
Natural smoke flavour has effectively replaced the traditional smoking method that involved long cooking hours. It uses less wood and includes additional flavouring ingredients that provide an even better smoky flavour and texture to foods.
Trusted Brands That Sell Natural Smoke Flavour
Wright’s liquid smoke
This natural smoke flavour is produced by simply burning wood and condensing the smoke. The only other ingredient is spring water. As you can see, there’s nothing sourced from animals in this additive, making it 100% vegan. It is available in three different flavours, including apple wood, mesquite, and hickory.
Colgin liquid smoke
This natural smoke flavour is made like the one above although the company adds vinegar, caramel colour, and molasses to give it a more mellow flavour. It can be found in four different flavours: hickory, pecan, mesquite, and apple wood.
Lazy Kettle liquid smoke
This company produces pure natural smoke that is highly concentrated. It is made by burning hickory wood, thus providing a rich hickory flavour to all your favourite foods.
Durkee liquid smoke
This smoke flavour is created by burning hickory wood and condensing the smoke. Other ingredients include water, caramel colour, molasses, vinegar, and sulphites, all of which is vegan, gluten-free, and MSG-free.
Figaro liquid smoke
Ingredients used to make this natural smoke flavour are hickory smoke flavour, water, caramel colour, spices, sugar, vinegar, and hydrolysed soy protein. Everything is plant-based although some vegans may have an issue with sugar is it makes use of bone char.
Stubb’s liquid smoke
The ingredients here include natural hickory smoke, water, cane sugar, caramel colour, salt, organic Tamari sauce (organic soybeans, water, and salt), organic distilled vinegar, garlic, and onion. All these are 100% vegan.
Is Natural Smoke Flavour Safe?
As we’ve seen before, this food additive is made by passing wood fumes into a condenser where the vapour 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 flavour, the liquid goes through filtration to remove impurities. But some of these cancer-causing chemicals may still persist in the extract.
Does this make natural smoke flavour a potential cancer risk? Not really. Natural smoke flavours 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 flavour is far too low to cause concern. The recommended maximum daily PAHs intake is 47 ng/day and most natural smoke flavours 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 flavour 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.
Bottom Line: Vegans and Natural Smoke Flavour
When you think of a smoky flavour, 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 flavour.
But with the increasing plant-based substitutes for otherwise animal-based products, vegans no longer have to sacrifice their previous favourite 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 flavour is no exception.
The natural smoke flavour 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 flavour. This is far too low to cause harm to the body. It may, however, be worth avoiding natural smoke flavour if you have a history of cancer.
If you find otherwise vegan foods with natural smoke flavour as one of the listed ingredients, you can consume it without any guilt. And, don’t forget to include the liquid smoke in your vegan recipes for an excellent aroma and smoky flavour.