Liquid smoke is exactly what it sounds like; smoke that has been transformed into liquid. The science behind it may seem impossible, but the process is easier than you might think. Smoke is filtered through water and condensed into a liquid that captures the essence, or flavor, of the smoke. To make liquid smoke you need a lot of machinery, but only three main ingredients: wood, smoke and water.
Before liquefying the smoke, it must be created first. The smoke for liquid smoke is created by burning wood and the type of wood used while making liquid smoke is important. Different types of wood produce different flavors and aromas when burnt. Hickory smoke is different than oak smoke, which is different than cherry wood and so on. Wood is inspected before burning to make sure it is free of mold, pesticides and other harmful chemicals.
Once the wood is burned, smoke is created. The smoke is captured in a large container and, as the smoke builds up, it is slowly cooled in the container to form condensation. Condensation is the condensed, liquid form of the smoke. The condensation drips down into a separate tank where it is filtered.
The smoke is filtered through distilled water. The filtering process eliminates any impurities from the product. The process results in water that is infused with the flavor and aroma of the smoke, liquid smoke. From there, the liquid smoke is bottled and ready for shipment. Some manufacturers add secondary ingredients to the liquid smoke before bottling.
If the liquid smoke does not have the ideal color, some manufacturers add artificial coloring before bottling. The artificial coloring does not affect the flavor; only the color. However, other ingredients are sometimes added to enhance the flavor of liquid smoke. Vinegar is sometimes added to balance out the flavor of the liquid smoke if it is too woody. Sugar-based products, such as molasses and honey, are added to rid liquid smoke of any tartness acquired during the filtering process.
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Rob Kemmett began writing professionally in 2010 and specializes in writing about food and hospitality. Kemmett has worked in various fine-dining restaurants throughout his career and holds an Associate of Applied Science in Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago.