Smoking food can provide a range of characteristics including a unique colouring, flavour ranging from mild to intense, and importantly, preservation to extend the shelf life of the food being smoked. There are numerous ways of smoking foods and many materials that can be burnt to produce smoke and different flavours, however the principles of how to do it is quite simple.

How is it done?

Foods are placed in an enclosed space and exposed to smoke. The temperature isn’t high, so the aim isn’t to thoroughly cook the food, but the process can still prevent microbes causing spoilage in two key ways:

  • The long process of smoking which exposes the food to temperatures around 40OC means that the food dehydrates. This prevents growth of microorganisms that may cause spoilage, due to lack of moisture or water which is required for them to survive.
  • A thin layer of smoke settles on the outside of the food. This creates an acidic or toxic layer to microorganisms, again preventing them from growing and causing spoilage.

These qualities mean that smoked foods often have a longer use-by or best-before date compared to their unsmoked counterparts.

Popular smoked foods

Examples of popular smoked foods include:

  • Fish such as salmon and mackerel,
  • Meats products including ham and chorizo,
  • and certain dairy products including cheeses and butter.

What to be aware of

The process of smoking foods produces some carcinogenic compounds, although there are European regulations in place to restrict the quantity in which these compounds can be present in foods. Furthermore, some smoked meats and fish, such as smoked salmon, are also cured with salt before smoking to further preserve the food, which also increases the salt content of the food.

For these reasons smoked meats are considered processed meat, and in the UK the Department of Health recommend that people who eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat per day cut down to 70g, to reduce the risk of bowel cancer. 1

So, go out and enjoy those smoked foods, but just make sure they form part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Smoked foods not your thing?

Why not take a look at our recipe archive for something different: