Grilling/smoking is widely accepted as being carcinogenic, but frankly, what doesn't cause cancer these days? If you want the flavor of smoking with less supposed carcinogens, a smoking gun (can buy at Williams Sonoma or jimmy rig) can cold smoke and limit exposure to carcinogens only using a tsp or so of wood chips.
Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.
It's true that grilling/smoking/charring your food is viewed as being carcinogenic. However, something I find interesting is that studies showing this have only ever been done in animal models - aka. mice. However, mice, along with all other animals are not adapted to eating cooked food, but humans are. Humans have been cooking their food - and probably charring and smoking it - for basically as long as we've been homo sapiens, which has given us a whole lot of time to adapt mechanisms to prevent some of the potential carcinogenic effects of cooking. So, though no one has ever studied it at all, I wouldn't be at all surprised if someday we find that grilled/smoked food is far less carcinogenic in people than it is in the animals we've studied. Just a thought.
To go on with what FutureChef and fiveandspice are saying, the body has a great detoxifying system namely the liver and followed by the kidney (to name a few). I think the levels that thesemice are subjected to are usually at such a higher level than what humans would experience.
Smoked sausage usually has some nitrite/nitrate in them, which, when eaten in excess, can cause health issues. Some people are more sensitive to them than others.
As for the smoked part. Burning and/or charring meat, when eaten frequently (as in more than twice a week for many years) is suspected of causing cancer. Same with wood smoke practicals, if consumed daily might cause cancer after several years.
But then again... I don't know if I believe all that. I haven't seen any studies done on humans yet, though I've seen the mice ones mentioned before (great points Emily). Cancer is a relatively new problem in humans, whereas people have been consuming smoked meats since we first learned to cook many thousands of years ago. The whole argument that we are living longer, therefore we now get cancer, doesn't hold up. Children are getting cancer now, young adults too. Yet go back 75 years, it was rarely known. (Pollan's book In Defence of Foods mentions this topic, Fallon's book Nourishing Traditions goes into more technical aspects - both great starting places for learning more about this, they also have nice citation so you can look up the sources they mention).
My opinion (stressing the word opinion): The toxins in industrial raised meats are going to do more damage to you than the supposed carcinogens from smoke. Eating cured and smoked meats in moderation is not going to do any exceptional harm to your health (again, my opinion, backed up by thousands of years of human history). But I would like to stress the 'in moderation' bit and also mention, a balanced diet full of wholesome foods will help support your bodies natural resources for dealing with any potential toxins (a lack of which might be the reason why it's perceived to be unhealthy today).
June is a trusted source on General Cooking.
<Smoked sausage usually has some nitrite/nitrate in them> Not necessarily. the nitrites/nitrates are created by CURING, not smoking. Not all smoked sausages are cured. In fact, most artisanal sausages are not cured.
Thanks for the clarification ChefJune. I did say "usually has" and I didn't say it comes from the smoking process.
A lot of commercial and artisan sausages (at least in the shops on the West Coast of Canada, other countries will vary due to government regulations and local customs.) use nitrite/nitrate as an ingredient to reduce the chance of botulism developing during the smoking process.
Maybe it's something to do with the health regulations here, but I'm very lucky to find 1 in 10 commercial smoked sausages without curing salts included, and 1 in 30 artisan smoked sausages without them.
The CFIA of Canada struggles to modernize their thought processes when it comes to new meat technologies, hence they are stuck in the old days. Trying to get no nitrite added products produced in Canada is a mind boggling process. With today's HACCP and other food safety standards, the use of sodium nitrite or nitrate is not necessary, but rather is used more for the "cured" flavour consumers expect from many traditionally cured meats. A ham without any curing agent such as Nitrate/Nitrite would taste like roast pork, not ham. This is way you will see many companies in the USA using vegetable juices, which naturally contain nitrates and nitrites as curing agents to achieve that cured look and flavour.
All true Uber Dashi. But it's good to remember that Canada has had a lot of deaths in the last three years due to major (really that should be MAJOR in all caps) problems in meat processing plants. Both in cured meat processing plants, and regular old cut-up-the-cow processing plants. It's hard to trust your meat (enough to manipulate it in ways like curing, sausage, &c.) in Canada unless you grow your own animals and know the abattoir well.
Out of curiosity Uber Dashi, do the American companies have to label the vegetable based nitrates (or is it nitrites?), for example: "contains celery salt, which is a naturally occurring nitrate."
I am very familiar of the listeria outbreak and deaths (>22 deaths) caused at a Maple Leaf plant on old equipment that most plants in the USA had trashed years ago because of their know problems with bio-film build up in areas that were near to impossible to sanitize correctly. Also, in the USA there is a zero tolerance for any listeria (LM) on any products . . . Canada at the time of the out break had no such regulation, allowing some LM to be present on products, hence the problem. The LM outbreak happened on nitrite cured products, as well as uncured products. CFIA needs to modernize so to help prevent this from ever happening again.
I agree Uber Dashi. I find it very had to trust meat these days and find my self eating a whole lot less of it. What with the Maple Leaf thing, then the pork scare we had out West, then the Beef thing... I find myself buying almost all my meat from local farmers and abattoirs I know and trust, then curing/smoking/grinding/processing my own meat. Whereas before, the only thing I needed to worry about was avoiding soy.
I am all for supporting local, but that does not always mean safer. I spend a lot of time auditing farms and slaughter plants in North American, South America, Australia and Europe. I find the larger slaughter facilities do a better job at humane slaughter and food safety than the smaller plants, because of better resources and better training. Goes against what a lot people believe, but it is reality. Being organic or local or beyond organic does not mean better in food safety and animal welfare. Some have failed my audits, others have done a wonderful job. There are good farmers and bad farmers whether they are conventional or organic. In the end, you have to get to know your farmer . . . or better yet, be a farmer. Every family needs a farmer.
I need to clarify my statement on cancer: it should be "Cancer on the scale we see it in the western world is a relatively new problem" (wish I could edit my posts)
I assume you mean buying smoked sausage in the store vs smoking at home. The Germans have done studies through the years on smoked meats and measure PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) as the main carcinogenic culprit. Because of this, Germany has a standard of allowable PAHs on any smoked product, < 5 ppb (parts per billion). Their studies have shown that there are more available PAHs on and in the skin of fruits and vegetables caused by air pollution, then meats that are smoked in Germany. The Germans have developed wonderful smoke generators used to create smoke that meet this standard for commercial smokehouses. These generators use high pressure steam the super heats the wood chips to approx 750º to create smoke. Some USA meat plants have switched to these devises, not because they worry about PAH, but they devices work so well. The USA does not have any standards for PAH in or on any foods. The amount of PAH in smoke is directly connected to the temperature at which the wood was burned or heated to create that smoke. I personally feel that you would have to consume vast amounts of smoked sausage to have any adverse effects to your health. Also consuming foods high in anti-oxidents helps cleanse your system if you are worried.
pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.
As usual, when it comes to meat products, Usuba Dashi nailed it.
Usuba dashi, can you provide cites or sources? I think your comments are very interesting, in part because I spend a lot of time in Germany and eat a lot of smoked meats. I have wondered about the safety, and would love to learn more about what I am eating there! I have suspected that German smoking methods may be different than in the US--mostly because the meat and sausages taste so much better.
I noticed how much better it tastes too. I often wonder how much is the method and how much is the choice of ingredients.
@Maedl - Much of this research was done back in the 60's and has appeared in the German magazine, "Die Fleischwirtschaft". Much of what I cited was from a thesis I did at uni back in the early 70's, before the internet, so I dug deep into my memory to bring up what I had cited. I know that my resources came mostly from German university papers. The Germos company of Germany has also done studies on the high pressure steam systems and published papers.
Thanks a lot! Now I have an idea of where to look. Food in Germany is really interesting. There is so much cheap, processed food in the chain grocery stores and I despair when I look at what so many people are buying to feed their families. They go for cheap, factory farmed,and big quantity over local, carefuly produced. On the other hand, almost every town has a weekly market with a few local producers. Butchers, bakers and green grocers are also available, with good quality, but more expensive items. I understand the need to keep costs down in feeding a family, but I think the government could be doing a lot to improve dietary choices, help farmers and polish the image of German foods. If you know where to go, German food can be delectable. And the smoked meats and sausages are proof!
On that topic, wholesome wave is an excellent charity working to let WIC apply to farmers markets and to match the WIC stamps so that their affordable.
On a side note I believe chef Acheson, a bug supporter of said charity, is trying to fundraise by offering to split up his unibrow if he raises enough money. Haha.
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