Quirks & Quarks

Using tailpipe tech to make smoked bacon safer to eat

Filter out the carcinogens, and all of a sudden bacon is even more delicious.
Smoked bacon contains small amounts of carcinogens from wood smoke, but new research suggests a way to filter some out during the smoking process

You had me at bacon

Mmmmm ... bacon. There's little better than sizzling smoked bacon on a Sunday morning. And if bacon isn't your thing, how about some smoked salmon? Or a smoked gouda?

Smoking foods is an excellent way to preserve food and it's also an incredible way to add flavour, whether you use hickory, mesquite, or your other favourite wood. However burning any plant material can release polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons - and those chemicals are carcinogenic. The levels of carcinogens in food from smoking food are generally thought to be low enough for safety.

Better safe than sorry

Despite the very low risk to human health, scientists at the Flavour Centre at the University of Reading have developed a method, inspired by the automobile industry, to reduce carcinogens. After reading a paper on the filtering of exhaust in a Skoda car, food scientist, Dr. Jane Parker, thought to try the same zeolite filter used for exhaust to filter the smoke from wood chips in food processing. Her lab tests found that more than 93% of the most dangerous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, benzo[a]pyrene, was removed from the meats.

The taste test

Dr. Parker expected the yummy flavour coming from the smoking chemicals would have been stripped along with those chemicals. To test this, the team smoked both ketchup and chicken nuggets with the filtered and unfiltered smoke and did a taste test. Tasters reported that food smoked with the filtered smoke actually tastes better than food from unfiltered smoke. The tasters rated the zeolite filtered foods as less acrid and more savoury with fewer "ashtray" notes. If adopted in the food industry here in Canada, this could amount to safe and tastier bacon — thanks to science.