The Introduction and Evolution of Liquid Smoke as a Condiment

If the sound of smoked turkey, salmon, sausages, and cheese makes your mouth water, you’re not alone. The appeal of smokey flavors is ancient, and many historians believe that humans have been smoking meat since we first discovered fire. While traditional smoking methods involve exposing food to wood smoke, over the past 120 years, liquid smoke has slowly taken over.
What is Liquid Smoke?
Liquid smoke is a condiment you may have seen in your local grocery store. It’s essentially pyroligneous acid, also known as wood acid or wood vinegar. You can use it as a basting to give meat, fish, and almost any savory food a smokey flavor without physically smoking it over a fire.
Condiment brands make liquid smoke by burning wood chips and collecting and condensing the steam and other vapors they emit. It often appears on food labels as “natural smoke flavoring”.
The Origins of Liquid Smoke as a Condiment
American chemist Ernest H. Wright invented liquid smoke in 1895 after remembering the black liquid that used to drip down a stove pipe in the print shop where he worked as a teenager. He experimented with condensing smoke by burning Hickory wood and running the smoke through a condenser.
Wright marketed his product to farmers as a cheaper way to preserve meat than smoking it, and modern studies confirm that liquid smoke does have anti-microbial properties. Wright’s Liquid Smoke® is still sold across North America today.
Liquid Smoke Goes Mainstream
By the 1950s, Ernest Wright had many competitors in the liquid smoke market. It was the age of convenience foods, canned goods, supermarkets, suburbia, and all-electric kitchens – the perfect time for innovations like liquid smoke to establish themselves as American pantry staples.
The FDA added liquid smoke to its Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list in the 1960s, and by the 1970s, it had become a popular flavoring ingredient for home and commercial use. Since then, brands have used it to flavor BBQ sauce, marinade, hotdogs, bacon, cheese, potato chips, and more.
Liquid Smoke Can Be a Controversial Ingredient
Many people are concerned that liquid smoke contains carcinogenic ingredients because it’s made from concentrated wood smoke. However, commercial manufacturers typically filter the product before bottling it to remove potentially dangerous impurities. Many people even argue that using liquid smoke is safer than smoking your food over open flames.
While conflicting studies exist, the general consensus is that consuming liquid smoke in small quantities is safe. Plus, the potent flavor means you probably wouldn’t need much to flavor your food after all.
Liquid smoke can also be controversial among barbeque chefs and pitmasters. Some see it as a shortcut that could never replace the taste of slow-smoked meat, not to mention the required time, energy, and skill level.
Modern Uses for Liquid Smoke
Today, chefs use liquid smoke to create new recipes proving the condiment is worth more than a mere flavoring for bacon, fish, and cheese.

  • Cocktails – adding a few drops of liquid smoke can enhance a bloody Mary, old-fashioned margarita, and more.
  • Desserts – liquid smoke gives sweet dishes a toasted flavor that can help you recreate the taste of s’mores, roasted almonds, caramel, and burnt sugar.

Get Natural Smokey Flavors From Advanced Biotech
Advanced Biotech supplies high-quality natural food flavorings across the US and beyond. Please contact us to sample our smoky flavor range or learn more about how to use our products to create unique flavor profiles.