My husband is trying to kill me. Slowly, like the way he smokes ribs on the barbecue. He loves smoke flavor and he has mastered the art of smoking and slow cooking meat. I find a touch of smoke flavor good, but I am certain too much is bad for you.
Smoke flavor is made on a large scale and sold to bacon, ham, hot dog, rib, cheese, sauce and flavor manufacturers. Besides imparting flavor and color, smoke flavor is functional. It creates the skin of the hot dog, it is an antioxidant and an antimicrobial.
Smoke flavor manufacturers buy lots of sawdust and burn it. They control the burn and capture the essence generated by the smoke. Sawdust is from wood which is about 40-60% cellulose and 2-30% lignin. Cellulose will produce carbonyls, acids and furans and lignin will produce phenolic flavor compounds when burned.
Phenols are a defined as a class of chemicals with a hydroxyl group bonded to a benzene ring (phenyl group). Phenolic flavor compounds can be phenol, eugenol, guaiacol, dimethyl phenol,syringol vanillin, and o-Cresol http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/fsn3.9/full. Many of the phenols in smoke flavor can also be found in vanilla extract (Handbook of Vanilla Science and Technology). Most of my flavor work with phenolic compounds has been formulating vanilla flavors. Since vanilla beans are often smoked to speed up the drying process, it makes sense that we identify phenolics with vanilla.
Phenol is a traditional antiseptic. Most people associate the aroma of phenolic compounds with a hospital. This antiseptic property lends to smoke flavor’s antimicrobial properties.
So, why do I think my husband is trying to kill me with smoke flavor? It’s not because of the phenols. Smoke flavor traditionally has Polycylic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH). Certain PAHs are carcinogenic, such as Benzo(a)pyrene (BaP). Worldwide, food experts are discussing the safety of PAHs and the cooking methods that produce them ftp://ftp.fao.org/codex/meetings/CCFAC/CCFAC37/FA37_34e.pdf . I have not been able to convince my husband to limit smoked food, but maybe they can.