Wood Smoke and Charred Wood

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Neither wood nor the smoke it gives off is an herb or a spice, strictly speaking. Yet cooks and makers of alcoholic liquids often use burned or burning wood as flavoring agents—in barbecuing meats, in barrel-aging wines and spirits—and some of the flavors they supply are identical to spice flavors: vanilla’s vanillin, for example, and clove’s eugenol. That’s because wood is strengthened with masses of interlinked phenolic units, and high heat breaks these masses apart into smaller volatile phenolics.