Our love for smoking or charring was ignited when man first discovered fire 🔥still considered one of man’s earliest and greatest discovery which has in turn caused massive ideas to be made when cooking meals. The discovery created room for exponential growth in humans to think beyond what they foremost known like the earliest social group that engaged in hunting and food gathering.
A society in which most or all food is obtained by foraging. This society is said to be a contrast to agricultural societies, which rely mainly on domesticated species.
Some studies even claim, humans ate most of the food items raw without taking it through any cooking process. Having the knowledge that man once ate the food we now cook raw really sends cold shivers to even think of it alone can be preponderance. Archaeological discoveries pointed out that Peking man, who lived around 4500,000 B.C. may have practiced cannibalism although, this thought isn’t conclusive. Archaeologist made deductions from the cave drawings during the mesolithic era to understand the eating habits which some of the drawings show hunting and food gathering.
But, you know as being we all quest for survival hence, we need the three basic things (Food, Shelter and Clothing) to survive. It shows man has always been a thinking being and food itself requires the physical, mental and spiritual capability to process thoughts. But is smoking and charring food really new? I don’t think so, because literature pointed out that our great grand parents who were into farming often roast yams, plantains and other good stuff which is then eaten with palm / red oil. We also have always had the longtime street food which is often roasted using open fire. These dishes often have a smoky feel which complements the taste of the dish.
My earliest memory of smoked food has to be fish the aroma alone is very distinct to other types of smoked items like poultry, peppers and vegetables.
Smoked fish is a source of income for people who do this commercially. But, recently you find smoked turkey and chicken in stores which is equally good and it shows there’s no limitation to it.
When I took Home Economics in Junior Secondary and Food and Nutrition course in my first year in Senior secondary. I remember vividly being taught that smoking was a way of preserving food items. Sundrying, Salting, Freezing and Cooking are all other methods used in prolonging the shelflife of food. Smoking and drying foods have been identified as a preserving technique used by Ancient Egyptian historical record also say, fruits were stored in honey and fish in oil.
EMBRACING CHARRING / SMOKING COOKING TECHNIQUES OR NOT?
Upon writing this article I got talking to Ozoz Sokoh, founder Kitchen Butterfly.
According to Kitchen Butterfly, “Charring brings universal, delicious smoky flavors to food from protein to vegetables and fruits – charred lemons anyone? There’s the risk of burning the food if one isn’t focused on the task – this outcome is not often what’s desired though, food ashes/ culinary ashes have long been a cooking ingredient.
Salt and smoke are amongst the first flavors of food human beings experienced. I find, regardless of culture and geographic location, these two flavors appear to be universal. Smoking brings so much dimension to the plate that I’d say yes, it should be embraced by as many people as possible.”
Ozoz’s opinion took me further to an article on Ncha by Nma Okpara . Ncha is used in place of ‘akanwu / kanwun’ aka potash. She used Ngó (palm kernel skin burnt into ash) in a recipe. It is used as a thickener in major local dishes. This technique isn’t new but overtime we’ve seen many people embracing the ideas and using it in this day and age.
ARE THERE RISKS?
Ozoz says, “I’ve heard/read that excessive charring and smoking might be carcinogenic but I haven’t done any studies or delved deeper to fact check.”
I did a little more research and found that recent studies on smoked or barbecued foods “have indicated that they contain chemical contaminants that are harmful for our health, and capable of causing dangerous diseases like cancer and heart ailments in the long run. This is because the cooking process involves burning of fuel, which gives rise to many chemical contaminants that are carcinogenic. A recent campaign launched by Food Standards Agency of UK also warned consumers about the cancer risks of eating overdone fries or even a burnt toast!” as seen in an article on NDTV food.
One observation after doing this research, Is that many resources available online only pointed out the advantages or usefulness. Some even gave details on how to go about smoking/charring and not focusing on the disadvantages.
Where disadvantages was mentioned they only made reference to the many chemical contaminants that are formed during smoking an Examples is the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and dioxins. These chemicals are carcinogenic to humans.
WHY CHARRING / SMOKING IS FASHIONABLE
I consider the recent technique quite fashionable because of the new kitchen appliances used. Long before now charring and smoking is usually done on a grill which is often directly over open flame. The recent improvement and the manner in which food creators go about the New Nigerian kitchen whereby, appliances are used for major activities for easy and fast cooking. An oven for example, is a multipurpose appliance that can be used literally to do anything.
Even if, precautions like wearing an oven glove is very important and are meant to be adhered to when using an appliance like the oven. I still consider the technique very fashionable compared to being exposed to open flames. The experience is soothing because at ones comfort and abode things are done quickly and the desired result is achieved.
From data gathered and from research, cooking has a rich history which has massively developed over the past 400 years. Even with the emergence of super quality kitchen appliances used in our modern cookings, they fall premise to what was in vogue long before now. History made pointers to great chefs and food enthusiasts who made these techniques stand the test of time which we all still use and make reference to till date. Humans have always evolved so will cooking techniques and patterns of dinning.