Smoke flavor

Fire and smoke flavor

Fire and smoke flavor


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.

Commercial Smoke Flavor

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 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.

Polycylic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

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 . I have not been able to convince my husband to limit smoked food, but maybe they can.


  1. Martín Baldán says:

    Hello, Mrs Bautista (Susie?)

    This is a great blog and I find it very useful. Congrats!

    I’m starting a business as a food flavoring retailer in Spain and I want to learn as much as possible about flavors and the chemistry behind them, first of all because I find the topic fascinating, but also to boost my role as a link between the end consumers and my supplier, the flavorist, especially regarding all the health concerns they may have.

    The topic of smoke flavors seems to be a really “hot” one. As you probably know, in European regulations (for instance, “Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008”) they have a whole section of their own, the other ones being “flavouring substances”, “flavouring preparations”, “thermal process flavourings”, “flavour precursors”, “other flavourings” and “mixtures thereof”) , I guess because they may contain substances not allowed in other kinds of flavor.

    My question is, how does the PAH content in smoke flavors relate to their.. well, smoky flavor? To what extent can a flavor smell of smoke and be safe at the same time? How safe are the ones currently available?

    Regards and thanks in advance!

    • Susie Bautista says:

      Hi Martin: Very interesting question. PAHs have fairly high molecular weights and are therefore I believe less aromatic/flavorful. Most contributing flavor compounds are between 50-200 Daltons. Benzo(a)pyrene is about 250 daltons.
      I suspect the challenge is removing PAH without losing the flavor volatiles.

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