Is Liquid Smoke Flavoring Carcinogenic?

Is Liquid Smoke Flavoring Carcinogenic?

October 14, 2019 40 By Ewald Bahringer


[Music] we know smoke inhalation isn’t good for us what about smoke ingestion decades ago smoke flavorings were tested to see if they cause DNA mutations in bacteria and the test was negative even as more and more smoke flavoring was added the DNA mutation rate remained about the same but the fact that something is not mutagenic and bacteria has little predictive value for its effect on human cells so a group at MIT tested a hickory smoke flavoring they bought at the store against two types of human white blood cells unlike the bacteria the mutation rate shut up as more and more liquid smoke was added but there’s little evidence of mutagenic activity in a particular human cell line is more closely related to human health risk than is mutagenic activity in bacteria in other words just because liquid smoke caused DNA mutations in human cells in a petri dish doesn’t mean that does the same thing within the human body damaging DNA is just one of many ways chemicals can be toxic to cells a decade later researchers tested to see what effect liquid smoke had on overall cell viability if you drip water on cells nothing happens they keep powering away at around 100% survival but drip on more and more would fire smoke and you can start killing some of the cells off cigarette smoke is more toxic with three out of four of the brands of liquid smoke they bought of the supermarket killed off even more cells leading them to conclude that the cytotoxic potential of some commercial smoke flavorings is greater than that of liquid cigarette smoke a finding they no doubt celebrated given that the researchers were paid employees of the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company unfortunately they didn’t name names of the offending brands that’s one of the reasons I was so excited about this new study where they tested and named 15 different brands of liquid smoke this maximum response they were measuring was what’s called p53 activation p53 is a protein we make illustrated here in pink and red that binds to our DNA shown in blue it activates our DNA repair enzyme so big p53 responds might be indicative of a lot of DNA damage and a few of the liquid smoke flavorings activated p53 almost as much as a chemotherapy drug like a top aside whose whole purpose is to break DNA strands other flavorings didn’t seem as bad though there was a hickory-smoked powder that ranked pretty high as did the fish sauce though smoked paprika didn’t register at all the p53 activating property and liquid smoke was eliminated by standard baking conditions so if we bake something with liquid smoke for long enough it should eliminate this effect though just boiling even for an hour or slow cooking didn’t appear to work they conclude if the DNA damaging activities of liquid smoke were thought to be deleterious it might be possible to replace liquid smoke with other safer smokey substances why do they say if thought to be deleterious that’s because they’re not directly measuring DNA damage remember they’re measuring p53 activation and that’s not necessarily a bad thing p53 is considered guardian of our genome guardian of our DNA it’s considered the tumor suppressor gene because it helps repair our DNA so if something boosts the activity of p53 is that good or bad it’s like the broccoli store cruciferous vegetables dramatically boost our livers detoxifying enzymes is this because our body sees broccoli as toxic and is trying to get rid of it quicker either way the end result from broccoli is good lower cancer risk it may be a biological phenomenon known as hormesis that which doesn’t kill us make us stronger like exercises of stress on the body but in the right amount can make us healthier in the long run so for example teas and coffees cause p53 activation as well but their consumption is associated with lower cancer risk so it’s hard to know what to make of that smoke flavoring p53 data due to limitations of the available test is hard to calculate the genotoxicity liquid smoker and the other food for that matter a better approach may be to just analyze liquid smoke for known carcinogens chemicals that we know cause cancer this was first attempted back in 1971 one of the seven liquid smoke flavors they tested contained a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon known to be cancer-causing but there’s a bunch of similar carcinogens that they didn’t test for a later study tested across the board looking specifically at five different carcinogens and liquid retail liquid smoke seasonings the recommended daily upper safety limit for these carcinogens is 47 hickory smoke flavoring only has 0.8 per teaspoon so you’d have to drink three bottles a day to bump up against the limit and mesquite liquid smoke only 1.1 turns out that most of these carcinogens in smoke are fat soluble and so when you make a water-based solution like liquid smoke you capture this mocha flavor compounds without capturing most of the smoke cancer compounds the only time you really need to worry is eating smoked foods foods directly exposed to actual smoke for example smoked ham comes up to here and smoked turkey breast up to here so one sandwich and we may be you know halfway to the limit but one serving a barbecued chicken takes us over the top less than a single drumstick and we may nearly double our daily allotment of these carcinogens nothing however is as bad as fish smoked herring 140 and we have to shrink down the graph to fit the worst of the worst smoked salmon one bagel with lox could take us ten times over the limit [Music] you