Food Science: Understanding the Maillard Reaction

Q: What do roasted meat, crusty bread, and dark beers all have in common?

A: Aside from a mighty fine dinner, all three are made tastier are thanks to a chemical process known as the Maillard reaction!

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Pronounced "my-YARD," this reaction was first identified by Louis Camille Maillard back in 1910. He found that sugars and amino acids will react at high heats, producing a host of flavors and aromas, many of which make our mouths water.

The particular flavor and aroma from the reaction are determined by the specific amino acid involved. Not all the flavors are considered palatable, but the ones we like can range from meaty and earthy to vegetal and bitter.

In addition to the foods mentioned above, the unique caramel and bitter flavors of coffee, toasted nuts, chocolate, and roasted vegetables all come from Maillard reactions.

Related: How to Sear Meat

(Image Credit: MyRecipes.com; Emma Christensen for the Kitchn, and Between a Rock via Flickr Creative Commons)