Celebrating Brownies

Many Americans celebrated National Brownie Day yesterday, December 8, by eating one of America’s favorite desserts, the brownie. I, too, celebrated the day with my grandson who adores chocolate and brownies, in particular.

While we were enjoying our brownies, we got to wondering who invented the brownie or if it was an accident that turned into a favorite. Of course, the answer lies in a quick Google search where we learned that it has been a favorite dessert for many years.

Brownies may have made their appearance late in the 19th century. One legend about the origin dates back to 1893 when Bertha Palmer requested a small cake-like dessert suitable for a boxed lunch for ladies attending the Columbian Exposition World’s Fair in Chicago. Mrs. Palmer enlisted the help of her hotel chef at the Palmer House Hotel. Chef Joseph Sehl provided the ladies with what is thought to be the first brownie; “a thick, dense, fudgy chocolate bar covered with an apricot glaze and walnuts,” according to the Institute of Culinary Education. Today, the Palmer House Hotel continues to make and serve the brownie using the original recipe.

The 1897 Sears, Roebuck Catalog published a brownie recipe simply titled, “1897 Brownies.” This may be among the first of published brownie recipes.  It was so popular that Sears, Roebuck introduced their own brownie mix. Thereafter, recipes began to pop up in various cooks books and newspapers. Some early recipes derived their flavor from molasses rather than chocolate.

Today we know the brownie as a square or rectangular chocolate cake-like cookie, classified as a bar. Brownies come in a variety of forms depending on their ingredients. They may include nuts, frosting, cream cheese, chocolate chips, or other ingredients. A popular variation of the chocolate brownie is the blondie or blonde brownie; it is made with brown sugar and vanilla rather than chocolate and may be plain or include chocolate chips or nuts.

Regardless of how the brownie came to be or what recipe is used, brownies are enjoyed by their followers anywhere and anytime. So if you missed National Brownie Day, go ahead and whip up a batch of brownies or purchase your favorite and enjoy each delicious bite! If you are making your own either from scratch or box, here’s a couple of tips to ensure success:
– line baking pan with parchment paper with two ends sticking out (handles) so that brownies can be easily lifted from the pan for cutting.
– do not over bake; check on them before the specified time on the recipe. To test a brownie for doneness, insert a toothpick in the center; it should come out with a few moist crumbs attached (if it’s clean, it’s overbaked).
– resist the temptation to cut into them before they are fully cool. Brownies continue to set while cooling.
cut on a cutting board with a serrated knife; gently saw through the edges and then press straight down cutting all the way through rather than dragging the knife across. Pull the knife up gently. It also helps to wash the blade between cuts with warm water and leave it slightly wet.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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‘Home-Canned’ Cakes and Breads for Gift Giving – A Big NO

The holidays are just around the corner and homemade food gifts are often part of the giving and receiving. One can look in magazines or online to find countless ideas for foods to give and ways to dress them up for giving. While many of these suggestions are safe and cute at the same time, some are not and one needs to be wary of them. One that I find particularly disturbing is the advocating of ‘home canned’ cakes and breads in jars.

Instructions for these “special” gifts involve preparing a favorite cake or quick bread recipe and baking it in a pint canning jar. Once the cake or bread is done, the steaming jars are taken out of the oven and a canning lid is immediately popped on. As the cake or bread cools, the lid seals creating a vacuum. Many recipes claim that these products can be stored safely on the shelf from a year to indefinitely. While the pictures look attractive and the gift might be unique, these products are NOT SHELF SAFE as the recipes and instructions indicate. There is NO canning involved and this technique IS NOT RECOMMENDED. If someone gives you a home canned cake or bread in a jar, assume it is unsafe to eat and discard it in a manner that not even animals will consume it. Here’s why . . .

Many cake and quick bread recipes often have little or no acid resulting in a pH range above 4.6, a pH level that will support the growth of pathogenic organisms that cause foodborne illnesses. Of greatest concern is the microorganism Clostridium botulinum (botulism) growing in the jars. Conditions inside the jar are ripe for hazardous bacterium given that cake and bread recipes may include fruits, liquids, or vegetables which increase moisture content AND the practice does not remove all the oxygen from the jar. The two factors create a rich environment for microorganisms to thrive.

One other consideration outside of food safety, is the jar itself. Regardless of the brand of the jar, jars can break or explode due to temperature fluctuations when the oven doors is opened or the jars removed from the oven. The glass used for Ball and Kerr canning jars is not tempered for oven use and is not meant to be used as bakeware.

Commercially prepared breads and cakes made in jars are safe. Companies use additives, preservatives, and processing methods to ensure the safety of the finished product that are not available for home recipes. Avoid purchasing canned breads or cakes in glass jars at bake sales or farmer’s markets unless they meet all labeling requirements for commercial foods. Currently there are no reliable or safe recipes for home baking and sealing breads or cakes in canning jars and storing them at room temperature for any length of time.

To date, there are no documented cases of botulism resulting from cake or bread in a jar. However, experts warn that it is an accident waiting to happen. Imagine how you would feel if you were the one who gave a gift that made someone incapacitated for life or worse.

If special breads or cakes are to be part of holiday giving, consider alternatives of baking and freezing, giving the recipient the opportunity to choose when they wish to use it. Most cakes and breads freeze well. Or create a “mix” by assembling the dry ingredients into a jar and attaching directions for preparing and baking. Attach a “use by date” on the label as some ingredients will loose their effectiveness, harden, or cake. Generally one month is appropriate. Also include a list of ingredients for those who have food allergies or dietary issues.

For additional information on gift foods to be weary of, check out Is Your Homemade Food Gift Safe to Eat? by the University of Minnesota. Be sure your homemade holiday food gift is memorable, not haunting.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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The Many Colors of Cauliflower – Purple, Green, Orange, and White

Green, yellow, and purple cauliflower
Green, yellow, and purple cauliflower

Have you been seeing something in the supermarket or famer’s markets that looks like cauliflower but instead of the traditional white, the heads are purple, orange, and green?  Colored cauliflower started popping up in the markets about 10 years ago and have increasingly become more popular and readily available.    What are these colored cauliflowers?  How do they taste?  How to prepare them so they retain their color?

White cauliflower used to be the only option.  The colored cauliflowers, like the white variety, are members of the cruciferous vegetable family.  They have a similar texture and taste—mild, sweet, and nutty.  The major difference is their color and with color, a slight difference in nutritional value. 

White cauliflower matures creamy white if the head is void of direct sunlight.  Older cultivars need to be blanched (inner leaves are tied loosely over the small heads to reduce the amount of light penetration) to prevent the sun from turning white cauliflower to yellow.  Newer cultivars are self-blanching as the plants produce inner leaves that hug the heads tightly preventing light penetration.  No blanching is required for the colorful varieties.

Purple cauliflower gets its color from anthocyanin, a naturally occurring phytochemical that is also found in other red, blue, or purple fruits and vegetables, as well as red wine.  Carotenoids are responsible for the color in orange cauliflower; carotenoids are also found in carrots, squash, and other yellow vegetables and fruits. Orange cauliflower actually came about as a genetic mutation that allows it to hold more beta carotene than its white counterpart.  Green cauliflower, also known as broccoflower, is a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower.  Green cauliflower contains more beta carotene than white cauliflower, but less than broccoli.

Colored cauliflower can be eaten raw, roasted, grilled, sautéed or steamed.  Cooks Illustrated experimented to find out the best method of preparation for holding color.   They found that the orange cauliflower proved to be the most stable; the orange pigments are not water soluble or sensitive to heat.  The chlorophyll in the green cauliflower is heat sensitive just like broccoli; overcooking will cause the cauliflower to become brown.  The anthocyanins in purple cauliflower leach out in water which dulls it’s color; color is better retained with dry heat such as roasting, grilling, or sautéing.   

There are lots of recipes available online for preparing the colored cauliflowers.  Enjoy the color!

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Salsa – Questions and Answers

With the summer gardens finally coming into season bringing an abundance of tomatoes, peppers/chilies, onions, and herbs, salsa making season is here! With it comes lots of questions to AnswerLine regarding how to make it safely. This blog will attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

I made up my own recipe for salsa or got one from a friend. Can you tell me how long to process it? It is important to use a tested or researched based recipe when canning homemade salsa. The reason being, the ratio of low acid vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic) to acid (lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar) has not been tested in a non-research based recipe. Recipes that have been tested will have enough acid to prevent the growth of the botulism bacteria and provide a safe product that everyone can enjoy straight from the canning jar. (Source: Homemade Salsa is a Science, Not an Art, Michigan State University)

Where do I find safe recipes for canning salsa? Creating a safe product that can be processed and stored on a shelf means having the correct proportion of acid to low acid vegetables to prevent the growth of botulism bacteria. The best way to ensure that the salsa is safe is to always follow a tested or researched based recipe. These recipes can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Land Grand University publications or blogs, The USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning, and So Easy to Preserve.

Can I make my own salsa recipe? Creating your own recipe is a possibility. However, instead of guessing at the processing time, freeze it or make just enough to be eaten fresh. Another alternative is to follow a tested recipe using the exact ingredients and processing time; when ready to use, add the black beans, corn, or any other ingredient that should not be used in a home canned salsa recipe.

Can I add more cilantro to my canned salsa than the recipe includes? Cilantro is best added to fresh salsa. It is not usually included in cooked recipes. Cilantro loses its fresh flavor when cooked and becomes dark and soft in the mixture. As mentioned in creating your own salsa, cilantro could be added at the time of using the canned salsa.

Do I have to use canning salt? Canning salt is recommended and should definitely be used with vegetable and pickle canning. However, in a pinch, one could get by with iodized or table salt with salsa. The product will be safe but one may detect a metallic or bitter flavor which may not be disguised by the spices or herbs used in the salsa. Also, table salt usually has an added anti-caking ingredient which may cause a slight cloudiness.

Can I substitute peppers? One should never increase the total volume of peppers in a recipe. However, substituting one variety of a pepper for another is perfectly fine.

Must I use the suggested spices? Spices are the only safe ingredient you may change in a tested recipe to adjust for flavor.

Does it matter what kind of onion I use? Like peppers, one should not increase the amount of onion specified in a tested recipe. However, red, yellow, or white onions may be substituted for each other.

Is it okay to use any size jar? The size of the jar can also affect the safety of the product. All tested recipes are canned in pint jars and one should not substitute another size and assume it is safe.

For more information on preserving homemade salsa, check out Preserve the Taste of Summer Canning: Salsa.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Donuts, an Old Food Made New

Perhaps you’ve noticed that doughnuts or donuts have taken a new prominence in the culinary world. They have become the new party food being proudly displayed for the picking on peg boards at graduation parties, replacing cake at wedding receptions, the new “cupcake” at birthday parties, and the most requested birthday breakfast treat. Further, there is the opening of new generation donut shops across American featuring contemporary takes on the standard donut with creative flavors, fresh-made on the spot varieties, limited editions, and other creations that deny all healthy eating. At many of these shops, people wait in long lines to get their treats at elevated prices.

Recently, I was one of those standing in a long line to try one of these new pleasures. In June, we traveled to California for my son-in-law’s PhD hooding. We kicked off graduation day with a trip to a nearby gourmet donut shop for coffee and their special creations. As we stood in line, the baristas brought samples of the donuts they were making that morning so that when we got to the counter we could quickly order. We each picked a different flavor and after getting our treats, we went to a nearby park to share and eat. Our choices include strawberry buttermilk, maple bacon, huckleberry, cookie dough, and chocolate (spelled choc-a-lot). It was my first donut in many years and each was definitely unique and very good.

Like other contemporary “doughnuteries”, this shop boasts donuts made hourly from scratch in small batches, using only the finest real ingredients, no preservatives, use of seasonal products, infused glazes and hand crushed toppings to insure a fresh and warm treat for each and every customer. They feature daily and monthly specials as well as regular offerings all created from their own recipes. At other shops one might find donut ice cream sandwiches or donut burgers. The creation list of flavors and uses is endless.

While donuts seem to be trendy now, they have always been a popular food. They have been around for hundreds of years and there is no definitive answer to the donut’s origin. There are, however, events in history that give background to the development of the donut as we know it today.

Dutch immigrants brought the tradition of making olykoeks (oil cakes) with them when they came to North American. Olykoeks were yeast-raised dough balls boiled in lard (pork fat) until golden brown. However, often the centers remained undone and gooey. To remedy that uncooked center, cooks began pushing nuts into the center of the dough balls to assure more even cooking; while this was better than just the solid dough ball, it was not the perfect solution. In 1847, Hansen Gregory, an American ship captain, experimented with a different method. He used a punch to make a hole through the center of the dough ball and discovered that a hole eliminated the uncooked center completely. Thus Captain Gregory is given credit for inventing the traditional ring shape that we know as a donut today.

There is also the question, cake or raised, when it comes to donuts.  Apparently, you are either a cake or yeast donut person.  A yeast donut is made from a yeast dough and is often referred to as a raised donut.  It’s puffy and light and typically is glazed, sugared, or frosted.  Cake donuts rely on baking soda or baking powder to raise and are often denser and sweeter.  Cake donuts can come in all kinds of flavors.

Lastly, there is still the question of whether it should be doughnut or donut. Wikipedia attributes the doughnut spelling to British English and the donut spelling to American English. Historians tell us that in 1809, the word “doughnut” appeared in print for the first time in a publication, A History of New York, by Washington Irving. Sometime during the 1900s, the word was shortened to “donut.” Today, either spelling is acceptable.

In whatever way the donut came to be, how we spell it, or if it is cake or raised, one thing is for sure—Americans and people around the world love donuts in many fashions. My favorite is still the standard, raised and glazed donut.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Buttermilk Substitutions

We had a caller last week requesting a substitute for buttermilk. She was getting ready to bake muffins and because the recipe called for so little buttermilk and she didn’t have any on hand was wondering what she could use in place of it.

We get quite a number of callers asking about substitutions. We have several good resources available with suggestions so please call or e-mail us if you ever have a question about what to substitute for an ingredient you do not have on hand at home.

Today I’m going to focus on buttermilk since that was my most recent question. Nothing can match the pure taste of buttermilk exactly. It adds a tangy flavor and increases the leavening power when interacting with baking soda. “Clabbered” milk is the most widely used substitute for buttermilk. “Clabbered” means soured and thickened. The most common way to clabber milk is to add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to one cup of milk. The lemon juice acidifies the milk allowing the leavening in the batter to do its job. If you don’t have lemon juice on hand, many people substitute vinegar which accomplishes the same thing. You would use 1 tablespoon of vinegar to one cup of milk.

Some people do not like the hint of lemon that is in products with that substitute used. If that is you, you may want to experiment with cream of tartar or watered-down sour cream or yogurt. When using cream of tartar, whisk 1 and 1/2 to 1 and 3/4 teaspoon into your dry ingredients. If you add the cream of tartar directly to the milk it will clump.

When using watered-down sour cream, use equal parts sour cream and water. If using regular plain, unsweetened yogurt use approximately 1/4 cup liquid to 1 and 3/4 cup yogurt to make two cups. If using Greek yogurt mix one small container with 1 and 1/3 cups skim or 1% milk to make 2 cups of substitute for buttermilk.

If your baked goods recipe does not call for much buttermilk any of these substitutions will work. If you are making something like salad dressing and buttermilk is the main ingredient you will want to make sure you use actual buttermilk. If you do buy buttermilk and only use a small amount of it you can successfully freeze it. After thawing in the refrigerator it may have separated a little bit but just give it a stir and it will be fine to use.

We don’t always get responses after we give out information from our office but in the case of this caller she did let us know that she used a substitute and thought the flavor was not affected but the batter seemed a little thinner which caused the finished product to be a little flatter and that made them more difficult to remove from the pan. She will make a note on the recipe that buttermilk is preferred.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Pacific Salmon

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries has proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of the Salmon. They are working to “protect salmon by bringing countries together to share knowledge, raise public awareness and take action”. I recently returned from a trip to Alaska where I was able to visit a salmon hatchery. It is such an interesting process and I enjoyed learning more about the Pacific salmon. They are a migratory species. Born in fresh water, they migrate to the ocean for their adult lives then return to fresh water to reproduce.

Salmon is an oily fish that provides protein, essential vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fatty fish per week. Salmon fits perfectly into that recommendation.

There are five main species of Pacific salmon along the west coast of North America:

Chum (KETA): their large size and mild flavor make them great for smoking or salmon patties

Sockeye (Red): considered the premium of all salmon due to its rich flavor and firm red meat

King (Chinook): best choice for the BBQ due to its strong flavor and thicker fillets; Chinook are the largest but least abundant species

Silver (Coho): always a great choice with a milder flavor and price to match

Pink (Humpy): smallest and most abundant species; known for a softer texture and mild flavor; perfect for dips and spreads

To better remember the five species I was taught to use my fingers and thumb: Chum – rhymes with thumb; Sockeye – it’s #1; King – the biggest; Silver – for your ring finger; and Pink – for your pinky. Quite clever!

Spend Smart Eat Smart had a recent blog post on Safe Seafood and Broiled Salmon was their Recipe of the Month for April 2019.

Here are a couple recipes for you to try using canned salmon from the USDA: Salmon Patties and a Salmon Casserole.

I know salmon is plentiful in our grocery stores but I had fun bringing some home in my suitcase to try with new recipes!


Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Summer Baking with Kids

Summer is nearly upon us and many of us will be looking for fun things to do with the children in our lives. One thing I love to do with my grandchildren is bake. I recently attended a cookie decorating class in hopes of picking up a few tips about some new techniques or products to use. The cookies we used were homemade (which are always fun to do with children) but if you find you don’t have enough time to do everything, using refrigerated cookie dough works just fine. There is a wide range of cookie cutters available on the market today for most any interest your children would have. If you can’t find exactly what you are looking for, trace a pattern and make your own!


Once your cookies have baked and cooled, frost with your favorite sugar cookie icing. Buttercream and Royal frostings are always popular. Experiment with making different colors of frosting using gel or powdered coloring. Put the prepared frostings in a baggie, cut one corner of the baggie diagonally and let the children use their creative skills to add frosting to the cookies.

The class I attended introduced me to Sprinkle Pop which is one of many brands of sprinkle type toppings available on the market in many different forms. Some of the varieties include sanding sugar which is translucent and quite fine and delicate; crystal sugar is also translucent but has larger, coarser crystals; nonpareils are round; quins come in many different shapes; edible glitter; and dragees which have a hard outer shell. It is important to be a good label reader when purchasing decorations for your cookies to make sure they are all edible. Some decorations will be labeled for use as decoration only and should not be consumed. They should be removed before serving the cookies. The FDA advises to avoid the use of non-edible food decorative products.


Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Cupcakes made by Beth Marrs

One of my favorite hobbies is baking. Now that I am an “empty nester”, there is a limit on how often and what sort of foods I can bake. Baking bread every week helps satisfy that need to bake but I also love reading about cooking and baking. Yesterday I read an interesting blog on the King Arthur Flour website. The blog had directions for making cupcakes out of your favorite cake recipe. This blog included some information that I had not heard before so I thought that it would be fun to share that information.

Most cake recipes will make great cupcakes. I had never thought of making angel food cupcakes or chiffon cake cupcakes and apparently, they do not make great cupcakes. I think with the difficulty of making those cakes, you would be happier with the full sized version.

It has been a while since I have needed to make cupcakes so I had not realized the variety of cupcake pans available. When the kids were home, I think that the mini cupcakes would have disappeared too quickly. Making jumbo cupcakes might have made the kids happy but would not have made enough cupcakes for everyone to have more than one.

It does not matter what size pan you choose, you will want to fill the wells in the pans most of the way full. King Arthur Flour says to fill them about 4/5 full. I did not know that the baking temperature affects the shape of the top of the cupcake. Using a lower temperature like 325° (but a slightly longer baking time) will yield a flatter topped cupcake. Sometimes this is desirable depending on how you want to decorate the cupcake. Baking at a lower temperature will also allow the outer rim of the cupcake to brown a bit. If you want a nice, domed top to the cupcake, bake at 375°. This higher temperature activates the baking power in the cake and results in a more even crumb inside the cake. You will also shorten the oven time for the cupcakes.

I have always wondered how to calculate the baking time for cupcakes and King Arthur Flour has some tips for that, too. They say to reduce baking time by 5% if your recipe called for 9” pans and you plan to bake at the same temperature listed in the recipe. If your recipe called for a 9”x13” cake pan, reduce baking time by as much as 40-50%. However, the most important thing they recommend is recognizing when the cupcakes are done cooking. The surface should be lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center should look crumb free when removed. The cupcakes should spring back if lightly touched. If you have a thermometer, you can insert that and if the temperature is between 205° and 210° the cupcakes are done.

This makes me want to leave the office and go home and bake some cake. Or cupcakes.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Liquid Smoke, that Controversial Condiment

Liquid smoke is a condiment that invites controversy.  Barbecue purists roll their eyes and say “no way.”  Health groups consistently voice concern over possible health risks. Yet despite all the ‘nay’, there is a strong ‘yay’ with marketing trends showing that the condiment is growing in popularity as a flavor additive.

Liquid smoke is made by channeling smoke from smoldering woodchips through a condenser that quickly cools the vapors causing them to liquefy.  The water-soluble flavor compounds in the smoke are trapped within the liquid while the insoluble tars and resins are removed by a series of filters.  The results is a clean, all natural smoke-flavored liquid that provides a cookout-like flavor when outdoor grilling isn’t an option.

Ernest H Wright is credited with introducing liquid smoke in 1895.  As a teenager, he worked in a print shop and noticed the liquid dropping from the stove pipe that heated the shop tasted like smoke.  Years later as a pharmacist, he experimented and perfected the process of condensing hot smoke from a wood fire to create Wright’s Liquid Smoke which is still sold today and remains as a pure product, smoke and water.

Unless liquid smoke has added chemicals or ingredients, it is an all-natural product—just smoke suspended in water. (It should be noted that some brands add molasses, vinegar, and other flavorings so read the label to be sure that it is just smoke and water.)  Liquid smoke is used as a flavor additive in a whole host of foods beyond the little bottles on the grocery shelf.  It is the source of the smoky flavor in commercial barbecue sauces, bacon, hot dogs, smoked meats, cheeses, and nuts to name a few.  The process of adding liquid smoke or smoked flavorings to foods is justification for the use of the word “smoke” on package labeling.

What about the health risks?  Smoke, no matter the source, contains cancer-causing chemicals.  Some of those chemicals persist even in the extracts making liquid smoke a potential cancer risk.  Studies have shown that the amount of carcinogenic chemical found in liquid smoke depends on the type of hardwood used and the temperature at which it is burned. Other studies have shown that liquid smoke is less risky than food charred and cooked over smoke. A researcher at NYU found that controlled smoking plus an ensuing filtering process removed most, if not all, of these compounds. Therefore, most experts contend that the concentrations of the carcinogenic molecules in liquid smoke are far too low for any genuine health concerns as one would need to consume far more liquid smoke than most recipes call for to see any effects. Moderation is key with this magical ingredient, so use a light amount (1/4 teaspoon) in dishes for the safest route and if sediment is detected, let it settle and use only the liquid above it.

Liquid smoke has zero calories, zero fat, and most brands are low in sodium (about 10 mg per teaspoon), but it still brings an intense flavor like bacon.  Knowing that we should use it sparingly, it may be brushed on meats to add a depth of flavor or added to foods that generally rely on saturated fats and salt to bring out their flavor; thus it may add flavor for those on restricted diets who find that their food lacks flavor. Just a dash imparts that distinctive meaty, salty flavor that we know and love.   Taste of Home says “there is almost no sauce that wouldn’t benefit from a few drops of liquid smoke.  Adding a few drops to everything from your BBQ sauce to vinaigrette to your ranch dressing will help elevate your burgers, salads, and everything in-between.”

I’m inclined to agree with the barbecue purists–liquid smoke does not replace true smoke, but I enjoy using a little liquid smoke now and again when smoking or grilling is not possible or to step up the flavor of foods and sauces.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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