A dash of this ingredient will transform your vegetables.
There's something enticing about a dish with deep, smoky flavor, but to acquire the true taste of smoke it usually takes expensive equipment and access to the outdoors. I recently noticed liquid smoke listed in tons of fall and winter recipes, and it got me wondering—what is in this strange ingredient? How can you bottle smoke, and what does it do?
Liquid smoke is a bottled flavoring of liquefied smoke that's perfect for elevating white fish or chicken. It provides a cookout-like flavor when outdoor grilling isn't an option and has a lot of potential for upgrading vegetarian meals that traditionally miss out on smokiness. Just a dash gives the distinct meaty, salty flavor that we know and love from foods like smoked salmon, bacon, herring, ham, sausages, and other smoked meats.
The liquid smoke brand Colgin, for example, starts by burning wood chips (hickory, mesquite, apple, or pecan, depending on the flavor) at a very high temperature and air moisture. The smoldering wood then release gases seen in regular smoke. These gases are quickly chilled, condensed, and liquefied before going through a refining and filtering process and aging in oak barrels. They're then bottled and shipped out.
What really put liquid smoke on our radar was the nutritional benefit of using the ingredient. Cooking Light's Assistant Nutrition Editor Jamie Vespa likes to use liquid smoke to replace the flavors usually found in foods that are naturally high in saturated fats and salt. Liquid smoke has zero calories, zero fat, and most brands have low sodium (about 10 mg per teaspoon), but it brings intense flavor like bacon would.
You can purchase liquid smoke in the condiment section of most supermarkets or on Amazon. Give the flavoring a try with some of our delicious, veg-friendly recipes.
Keep in mind that a dash of liquid smoke can go a very long way, so use sparingly and always taste your dish before adding more. Note that there are some studies that consider liquid smoke a carcinogen, so consume at your own risk. One study published in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology found that liquid smoke was more carcinogenic in some cases than cigarette smoke, though these findings were funded by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
Most studies have found that liquid smoke is less risky than food charred and cooked over smoke, and you would need to consume far more liquid smoke than most recipes call for to see any effects. Moderation is key with this magical ingredient, so use a light amount in dishes for the safest route.