The cooking technique “smoking” was likely originated in antiquity to extend the useful life of meat products and add characteristics of taste, colour and odour. Though relatively unchanged for centuries, smoking has been improved and innovated on in recent years to meet large-scale production needs and supply giant consumer markets. New liquid smoke solutions make it possible to use smoking in a more practical, rational, economic, ecological and productive way. Because liquid smoke can accelerate and standardize the smoking process, adding flavour and microbiological safety while reducing production cost, liquid smoke is increasingly used across a range of applications, from beverages to desserts.
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Making liquid smoke versus traditional smoke
Like traditional smoking, liquid smoke is produced through the burning of real wood, and the profile can be changed by the species and age of the wood and the temperatures used in the burning. However, with traditional smoke there are soluble and insoluble phases of smoke coming in contact with the product. There can also be a great variation in the flow of smoke, delivering inconsistent color and flavor, as well as leaks of smoke into the environment and equipment degradation due to heat exposure.
Liquid smoke, on the other hand, is generated by the controlled pyrolysis of hardwood sawdust. It contains only the soluble phase of the smoke in its process, making for a consistent product, and has a low carbon footprint, emitting less pollution to the environment than traditional smoking and causing less degradation of equipment. At the same time, adding liquid smoke to a product can present the same antimicrobial benefits of natural smoking, depending on the category.
Liquid smoke across applications
Liquid smoke can be used in meat, fish and seafood, sauces and condiments, ready meals, bakery products, dairy products, chocolates, sweets, ice cream and even beverages. Its application suits the needs of the product and producer, and can be applied via immersion, atomization, internal addition, spray, injection, marination, pretreated casings, direct application via product packaging and even on contact surfaces, such as conveyor belts.
In addition to ease of use and uniformity at scale, liquid smoke is prized in products for its:
- Taste: There’s a continued interest in smoky meat flavours, which add authenticity and richness to meat products. But smoky notes are also appearing in products ranging from baked goods and sauces to RTD beverages and hard seltzers.
- Texture: Liquid smoke contributes to the firm bite in hot dogs, for example, due to crust formation as a result of protein crosslinking.
- Colour: Adding liquid smoke to a product can add colour ranging from caramel through light brown all the way to dark brown.
- Antimicrobial action and freshness: Studies published in scientific publications show liquid fumes reduce the chance of contamination and proliferation of bacteria. Several common food-borne pathogens, such as Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Escherichia coli pathogen and Staphylococcus, have shown sensitivity to liquid smoke in vitro and in food systems.
- Sustainability: Producing liquid smoke is gentler on the environment than traditional smoking methods; by extending product shelf life it can also reduce food waste.
- Cost: The process of creating liquid smoke is especially economical for products in which a low dose of application is needed; across categories, it can reduce or eliminate steps that involve time, people and equipment.
- Clean label and health characteristics: As consumers continue to shop for foods with short, easy to understand ingredient lists, clean smoke is emerging as a clean label taste and preservation solution. During the process of liquid smoke production, unwanted compounds are discarded, such as phenolic derivatives (hydrocarbons), which are associated with a higher risk of cancer.
To learn more about how liquid smoke can enhance your products across applications, contact us. To work with the Kerry Latin America team that authored this article, visit our Portuguese language or Spanish language websites.