Regardless of source and form, there’s no denying that smoky foods are trending.
“Smoky flavors are seeing increases across the board in both foodservice and retail,” says Elizabeth Lindemer, corporate executive chef, Fuchs North America, Hampstead, Maryland. “This trend isn’t limited to meats; vegetables, snacks and even dairy have been taking on smoky and fiery flavors.
“Smoke adds complexity to a flavor, which is particularly appealing to millennials who are seeking out new and interesting flavors,” Lindemer says. “By adding a smoky element to a familiar flavor, like barbecue, for example, a product might generate new interest.”
Smoking also is part of the meat’s story. At Rack House Kitchen & Tavern, the menu emphasizes the length of the smoke and the wood used when preparing the meat.
“Consumers are increasingly interested in food that tells a story,” Lindemer says. “They like knowing the origins of their food and how it was prepared. In general, flavors that reference particular preparation methods, such as roasting, smoking, charring, toasting and grilling, are all on the rise, not just in foodservice, but also in retail.”
The need for convenience is driving innovation in ready-to-eat, ready-to-cook and heat-and-eat meat and poultry products formulated with outdoor-cooking flavors. Some of these products may actually be smoked over wood to tenderize the meat and add authentic flavor. But to ensure consistent flavor in packaged products, seasonings and flavors are added.
“Caramelized, ashy, savory, smoky, roasted, charred, when fat drips from the meat and hits the coals, new flavors are created,” Weber says. “It’s important to understand these complexities and capture all of the nuances.”
Red Arrow uses an authentic process to create smoke flavors.
“We simply create a plume of smoke from heated sawdust of known tree species and capture that essence in water,” says Bob Johnson, business development director, Red Arrow. “It is as natural as it gets. By capturing the smoke components in water, we can pass this condensed smoke through filtration. It also allows for the natural separation of the tar components. Because the tar is heavier and sinks to the bottom in a holding tank, we can remove it from the non-tarry fraction. This results in a clean smoke that has been filtered of compounds deemed less healthy for consumption. We have removed 98 to 99.5 percent of the carcinogen fraction tied to traditional smoking.”
Tree species, along with heating time and temperature, influence the flavor, aroma and color of the smoke ingredient. Suppliers often blend smoke ingredients to create customized flavors.
“Natural smoke is a refined smoke condensate created from a 100 percent natural process using only wood, heat, water and filtration,” says Patrick McKinney, chef and regional sales manager, LifeSpice, Chicago. “It’s a friendlier way to add smoke as compared to traditional wood burning. We create seasonings from all types of [wood] smoke flavors.”
Seasonings and flavors allow for consistent profiles in meat and poultry. This is something not usually possible when using a commercial smoker.
“We custom blend to create unique, craveable seasonings,” McKinney says. “Two recent examples are oak barrel hot honey and applewood brown sugar glaze.”