Modern Industrial Chemicals (part 11) - Liquid Smoke: Distilled Smoke Vapor - S'mores Ice Cream

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8. Liquid Smoke: Distilled Smoke Vapor

Smoking—burning wood chips and directing either the hot or cold smoke vapors to come in contact with items such as meats—is a method for curing and preserving foods. Smoking also deposits a number of flavors onto the food that are generated as byproducts of the chemical reactions that occur when wood is combusted. The commercial food industry uses liquid smoke to infuse smoke flavor into foods that are traditionally smoked, such as bacon, and into foods for which the flavor is enhanced by smoke essence, such as “smoked” tofu.

The simplest way of creating a smoked flavor in your cooking—besides actually smoking it—is to include ingredients that are already smoked and contain those chemical compounds. You can infuse smoke flavors into your dish by adding spices such as chipotle peppers or smoked paprika, or by using dry rubs with smoked teas such as Lapsang Souchong. Tobacco, too, can be used to similar effect; some novel restaurant dishes include components like tobacco-infused crème anglaise. However, including smoked ingredients will also bring along the other flavors of the substance being used. Some dishes can use smoked salts, for example, but for many applications, this will contribute too much salt. This is where liquid smoke comes in.

A cook can use liquid smoke to highlight the smoky “toasted” flavors of foods, especially those that have similar molecular compounds to smoke, such as coffee, peanut butter, or Scotch whisky. You can also use it to impart smoke flavor in those situations where grilling isn’t an option—say, on the 27th floor of your apartment complex.


When buying liquid smoke, look for an ingredient list that reads “smoke, water.” Try to avoid products that have molasses or other additives.

Some of the more unusual uses allow for bringing smoked flavor to foods that can’t normally be tossed onto a wood-burning grill, such as tofu, ice cream, or liquids (along with some sandalwood incense and Chanel No. 5, if you’re Maggie from Northern Exposure). Butter also has some of the same phenols as smoke; try adding it to butter for table service with bread.

The big long evil list of nasty chemicals and ingredients that one would expect to see on a liquid smoke bottle? “Water, smoke.” In and of itself, liquid smoke is not artificial. It does not undergo any chemical modifications or refining steps that alter or change the compounds that would have been present in traditional smoking.

In theory, some of the mutagenic compounds (those that cause cancer) normally present in traditionally smoked foods are present in much smaller quantities in liquid smoke, meaning that liquid smoke might actually be somewhat safer for you than traditionally smoked foods. However, be aware that liquid smoke will have some amount of mutagenic compounds present. As a substitute for smoking foods, it should be as safe as traditional smoking, but you probably shouldn’t douse a teaspoon of it on your morning eggs every day until further research is done.

S’mores Ice Cream

This recipe uses liquid smoke to impart the toasted flavor of campfire-roasted marshmallows. The concept was inspired by a demo by Kent Kirshenbaum of NYU’s Experimental Cuisine Collective.

You’ll need a standard ice cream mixer, or you can go all-out geek and either make your own  or use liquid nitrogen or dry ice. 

To create the base, combine in a mixing bowl:

2 cups (475g) whole milk

1 cup (238g) heavy cream

⅓ cup (75g) sugar

¼ cup (75g) chocolate syrup

¾ cup (25g) medium-sized marshmallows

15 drops (0.75g) liquid smoke

Proceed with the directions for your chosen method of making ice cream. Once the ice cream has set, stir in:

1 cup (60g) graham crackers, toasted and chopped into pieces

Serve with hot fudge or chocolate syrup—whipped cream, cherries, and nuts optional.

Oven-Cooked Barbeque Ribs

In a large baking pan (9″ × 13″ / 23 cm × 33 cm), place:

2 pounds (1kg) pork baby back ribs, excess fat trimmed off

In a small bowl, create a dry rub by mixing:

1 tablespoon (15g) salt

1 tablespoon (15g) brown sugar

1 tablespoon (9g) cumin seed

1 tablespoon (9g) mustard seed

20 drops (1g) liquid smoke

Cover ribs with spice mix. Cover baking pan with foil and bake at 300°F / 150°C for two hours.

In a small bowl, create a sauce by mixing:

4 tablespoons (60g) ketchup

1 tablespoon (15g) soy sauce

1 tablespoon (15g) brown sugar

1 teaspoon (5g) Worcestershire sauce

Remove foil from baking pan and coat ribs with sauce. Bake for 45 minutes, or until done.


  • Experiment with other savory spices in the dry rub, such as chilies, garlic, or paprika. Also, try adding items such as onions, garlic, or Tabasco to the sauce.

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