Made from the condensed smoke of burning wood, cooks use liquid smoke to add a grilled, smoky flavor to food made indoors and increase the longevity of meats. While the dangers of this ingredient are minimal if consumed in small quantities, consuming too much of it on a regular basis could have a long-term effect on your health.
Smoke contains carcinogenic compounds which, when introduced to your body, have the ability to cause cancerous changes. When smoke is captured and condensed in water to create liquid smoke, the producers filter out many of the hazardous carcinogens before sending it to grocery stores. Some carcinogens linger, however, making liquid smoke a less healthy alternative to grilled or barbecued foods. Because a small amount of liquid smoke goes along way -- 1 tsp. can flavor 5 lbs. of meat -- feel free to occasionally consume foods flavored with this additive unless your doctor tells you not to.
In addition to condensed smoke, commercial liquid smoke may contain other ingredients like sugar, artificial coloring and vegetable protein. Many people don't check the ingredients list of liquid smoke before they add it to their meats or vegetables. If you have any particular allergies or food sensitivities, always check the ingredients of your preferred brand of liquid smoke before you consume it. Depending on the sensitivity of your allergies, you may be able to eat foods flavored with a drop or two of liquid smoke, but too much of this flavoring could cause unpleasant allergic reactions.
Some brands of liquid smoke contain minimal or no additional preservatives, but others include chemicals like sodium nitrate, BHT and BHA, all of which may be linked to cancer. Monosodium glutamate, an amino acid that can cause headaches and nausea, might also be added to bottled liquid smokes. Try to buy brands of liquid smoke that contain no added preservatives and few additional ingredients, or limit your intake of the flavor enhancer to once or twice a month.
Liquid smoke is a potent flavor additive added to marinades and sauces rather than directly to meat or vegetables. Most recipes call for just a drop or two of bottled liquid smoke to lend an authentic smokehouse taste to foods prepared without the barbecue or grill. If you accidentally use too much, you risk making your food inedible. No matter how much you love the barbecued flavor liquid smoke brings to your favorite food, dumping too much in your dish will give your food a bitter, artificial taste.
Sarah Badger is a certified pilates and group fitness instructor, writer and dance teacher. Her work has appeared in "Dance Spirit" magazine and several literary journals. Badger earned her bachelor's degree in English and religious studies from Marymount Manhattan College, and currently owns a dance and fitness studio in upstate New York.