Why do smoked foods taste good?

There seems to be an evolutionary basis for the fact that salt, fat, and sugar taste good to nearly everyone: we need minerals and calories, and those tastes are associated with exactly those necessities.

So is there an evolutionary basis for the widespread appeal of grilled and/or smoked foods?

Can you give an example of a smoked food (without any added fat, salt or sugar) that you think is tastier than the non-smoked version? I’m drawing a blank.

Sure. “Everything”. For example:

Italian Sausage
London broil
Nova salmon
Pulled pork
Quail eggs
Uncured ham
uhh… Xtra-large eggs?
Zebra …?
Ok, I admit it got a little dicey there towards the end, but yeah, there are a lot of awesome smoked foods.

For most part, I can’t say the “smoke” is what causes a flavor increase in meats. Especially bacon. Grilled fat spaced evenly through meats is sublime though. Ever tried a non-cooked fat?

I was just watching a Canadian show where the caught and ate a goose cooked over an open fire. With no other seasoning the tag-along person doing the show remarked on how well it tasted. I would imagine this goes back to the safe preparation of food and the genetic propensity of survival over those who ate raw meat.


Using fire to cook food has allowed for a broader range of available foods in a human’s diet, thus selective taste for smokiness?

Some info. Not quite a cite.

This is pure speculation, but human ancestors on the savannas of Africa likely made part of their living as scavengers. Lightning-set grass fires were probably common, and killed many rodents and other small animals (and an occasional large one) when they swept through an area. Our ancestors who found smoked warthog tasty might have had an advantage over those who rejected such fare. Later, once we developed the ability to make fire and cook food, a liking for a smoky taste would also have been beneficial.

Almost all of those have extra salt and/or sugar added as part of the curing or barbecuing process, in my experience.

I have to disagree on the smoky cheeses, personally. Ugh. I’ve got a friend who loves smoky tastes, though; he’d probably drink liquid smoke from the bottle if he could.

Isn’t “smoked” flavor essentially just a big umami boost? And don’t we naturally like umami because it generally signals the presence of high-quality protein? Seems to me that would explain it.

I’m sure it’s the smoke. One time we marinated two pork tenderloins and cooked one on a gas grill, the other on a charcoal grill (using lump hardwood charcoal). In a blind taste test, my wife and I both agreed the charcoal-cooked pork tasted better.

So, if taste for smoke is evolutionary, that means the most advanced evolutionarily speaking among us are places where smoking/BBQing has been raised to a high art. Places like Texas and South Carolina :slight_smile:

Quite possibly; Great Apes Prefer Cooked Food. It appears to be a primate thing, not just a human one.

But charcoal grilling doesn’t necessarily have the same heat pattern as gas cooking. Wouldn’t a better test be to have two tenderloins identically cooked on a gas grill and then you add liquid smoke to one of them afterwards?

I do not like the smoked taste in food. (I actively loathe artificial smoke flavoring, but with naturally smoked products it’s just a dislike.) I cannot be the only person for whom this is true, can I? Am willing to give a DNA sample for scientific research.

Liquid smoke is a poor substitute IMHO. I think it IS the cooking pattern and taste that contribute to the “smoked flavour”.

Except that liquid smoke tastes like sooty benzene. There’s a marked difference between a food that’s been smoked and one that has had liquid smoke added to it.

Wood smoke has a lot of flavor components that we like in other contexts. Vanilla, for one - artificial vanilla is very often made from wood.

Heck, Wikipedia says it best:

One of the things to note: many of these compounds are smelled rather than tasted. Anyone who has tried to eat with a cold knows that your tongue is often far less important than your nose for flavor.

Does anyone who hate smoked foods know if you have a deficiency in smell?

That’s interesting. I have a comparatively weak sense of smell, though I wouldn’t call it deficient. (Only measured anecdotally, when others can smell things but I cannot.)

Why would it need to be genetic? If you grow up with smoked foods, you come to like smoked foods.

Just like fermented foods. Every culture ferments foods, but for the most part we find the fermented foods of other countries disgusting. Chinese people generally think cheese and wine are gross. We turn up our nose at stinky tofu and baijiu. These are not genetic preferences- it’s stuff we grow up with and learn to enjoy.

I would’ve thought it was the other way around – I figured my friend who loves smoky foods has a fairly dull sense of taste and that’s why he like strong-tasting foods (like hot peppers, strong coffee, etc.).

I certainly agree there are some tasty smoked foods, but it’s difficult to say exactly how much of the deliciousness is coming from smoke alone and not the cooking technique, the sauce, etc.

The worst smoked food I ever had was some smoked tofu from a Chinese grocery store. It smelled (and tasted?) like it had survived a house fire.