In restaurants, gourmet shops and local supermarkets, smoke seasonings are appearing everywhere and in every food—from salts, olive oils and cheeses to chocolates, caramels and even cocktails. In addition to pre-smoked foods, other sources of this trendy taste include spice rubs, liquid smoke (smoke that has been condensed and then dissolved in water) and do-it-yourself smokers, including stovetop smoke pans for indoor use. Traditionally, smoking was a way to preserve fish and meat, which may be one reason this recent taste trend is particularly popular among vegetarians. Smoked seasonings can add “meaty” richness and depth to vegetarian dishes.
While smoked foods can be delicious, there could be potential health risks. Some smoked foods are set over smoldering wood chips for hours, which some studies suggest form carcinogens, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Commercial smokers use filters and controlled temperatures to limit the amount of PAHs. To be safe, look at the product’s ingredient list and be proactive by asking how the food gets its smoky flavor.