"Most of the liquid smoke manufactured in the world doesn't find its way into little bottles on the grocery shelf. Instead, it is used as a flavor additive in several foods such as commercial barbecue sauces, marinades, and 'barbecue' flavored foods." Derrick Riches - The Spruce Eats
I can't quite remember now where I came across liquid smoke. I was somewhat horrified at the concept, as are many, of course but it was intriguing so I put it down on my 'when I feel like it' list. So today is the day. It was just going to be a part of a little bits post, but when I started on it I found there was a little bit too much to say for that.
The picture above comes from The Spruce Eats and an article by Derrick Riches, who probably says it all, or you can also try Matthew Sedaca on the website Eater, who has a few additional points to make in his article called The History Behind a Divisive Culinary Shortcut. So let's start with the history.
"It was invented by Ernest H. Wright (of Wright's Liquid Smoke) who, as a teenager, noticed a black liquid dripping from the stovepipe that heated the print shop he worked in. Years later, when he was a chemist, he realized this occurred because the smoke had come in contact with cold air. He then experimented with wood combustion and found that by condensing the hot smoke from a fire, a smoke-flavored liquid would form. Wright's Liquid Smoke was introduced in 1895 and is still sold today." Derrick Riches - The Spruce Eats
Indeed it is still sold today as witness the Home page of their website. The other major brand - also American seems to be Colgin, which can be bought in Coles.
As you can see it comes in different flavours according to what wood is used but it is indeed just condensed smoke. Note the word 'condensed' which as well as describing the actual technique for producing the liquid smoke also signifies that this is a concentrate product and a little goes a long way. So don't overdo it. Most of the commentators I found said never to use more than a quarter of a teaspoon, and if brushing meat with it, then dilute it. There were also several random comments on chat sites that warned against dropping it on the floor thus imbuing your home with the smell of smoke for weeks.
So in a way it is a 'natural' product. There are no additives - well some do add other flavourings - so check the label - and indeed the harmful potential carcinogens are actually removed.
"The stuff that goes into the bottle, minus a couple of chemical components that are not water soluble, is almost identical to meat when it's smoking," J. Kenji López-Alt,
At first I thought that there was no similar Australian product, but apparently there is and this is it - rather classier labelling don't you think?
This is just one product from a company called Smoked and Cured which is located here in Melbourne in the suburb of Cambellfield I believe. They do a lot more than liquid smoke though - from smoking equipment, brewing equipment, smoking woods, to sauces and rubs. And interestingly they have a special section aimed at Vegans. Their website includes a whole lot of really quite interesting and specialist recipes. I think you can only buy online at the moment, and one of those bottles of liquid smoke (210ml) will set you back $11.95 - but as I said, a little goes a long way and it won't go off for ages.
Why would you bother though? This is the land of the barbecue - and yes if you live in an apartment with no back yard that's a problem, but there is always the local park. Besides you can also smoke things in a wok on your stovetop as I spoke about before in one of those oddment posts. Or in a bucket in the backyard, à la Jamie Oliver.
I suppose it might be useful to add a smoky flavour to a barbecue sauce but there are other ways to do this:
"It's one of those flavors where just enough can be wonderful, but a little too much is truly awful. I use & enjoy it occasionally, and one little bottle will last a long, long time. Myself, I use smoked paprika more often, but the liquid can go places the paprika can't." eclecticsynergy - comment on Chowhound
Even the recipe list on the Smoked and Cured website didn't actually have many that used their liquid smoke. So as one commenter on Chowhound said:
"To me, it is one of those pesky ingredients you buy for *ONE* recipe, after which it languishes in your cupboard getting old and crusty." pdxgastro - comment on Chowhound
Which I guess is the real world.
The real world however, has a dark side - the vast array of products that use liquid smoke in their production.
"Liquid smoke is also in hot dogs, smoked meats, and many kinds of cheese. It is also used in most of the bacon we buy. Producers of these foods can use the word "smoked" in the name on their products, like smoked Gouda or smoked sausage, and never actually smoke anything in the way we would assume. The process of adding liquid smoke or other smoke flavorings becomes the justification for the use of the word 'smoked.'" Derrick Riches - The Spruce Eats
Now that comment is an American one, so I tried to find out what was allowed in Australia. I cannot find any actual statement about what is allowed so I trawled through various smoked products on the Coles website, and indeed it does seem that you can at least call something 'smoky' when you have actually used liquid smoke. For example Primo Smoky Chipotle Bacon has 'Flavours, Smoke, Natural' and also Wood Smoke (it's last ingredient) and Masterfoods Smoky BBQ sauce has 'Smoke flavour'. I suspect that if ham, for example, is described as 'smoked' then it has to be, but I have no proof of this. 'Smoky' is more ambiguous. As for the cheese - which David loves - I could not ascertain from the Coles website where the smoked bit came from. He also loves smoked almonds, and those definitely have 'Smoke seasoning'
The European Union did get all alarmed about carcinogens in liquid smoke, and some products were withdrawn as a result and more are still being examined, but then it's not something you are likely to be using every day is it? And yes it is more or less just smoke. And isn't charcoal carcinigous? I'm not even convinced about using it as a quick way of making your meat taste as if it's been barbecued. J. Kenji López-Alt had a recipe for pork ribs, but it was cooked sous-vide - I should write about that one day - which is not that simple. So why would you bother? The smoked paprika idea is probably a reasonable alternative for a smoky taste.
I don't think I would be getting too alarmed by it in other products, although it's a bit of a cheat isn't it? And anyway I don't really like a smoky flavour very much in most things - well I love smoked fish and smoked chicken - but not the rest.
And did I mention that you can actually make your own, but that requires complicated specialist equipment, so again, why would you bother?