A Condensed Guide To The Maillard Reaction
Non-enzymatic browning is a natural process that produces a brown or “cooked” color in foods without the activity of enzymes, which are cell adjuvants—or, catalysts—for a specific biochemical reaction to take place in an organism. The two main forms of non-enzymatic browning are caramelization and the Maillard reaction.
Maillard reactions are essential in nearly all foods and may be partly or totally responsible for the distinctive flavor of baked goods, beer, chocolate, dairy, etc.. In many cases, such as in coffee, the overall food flavor is a combination of the Maillard reaction and caramelization.
Whereas Maillard reactions already occur at room temperature, caramelization, instead, only involves sugars, which have to be melted between 120‒150 °C.
Maillard reactions take place when a food possesses both free amino acids (coming from proteins) and reducing sugars (coming from either a monosaccharide or some disaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides). Combined, these agents generate a vast array of complex compounds, depending on pH (acidity), activity water (the ability of the available water molecules to bind other substances), presence or absence of oxygen, time, and temperature.
The Maillard reaction is named after the French scientist Louis Camille Maillard, who studied the reactions of amino acids and carbohydrates in 1912.
Understanding and controlling the Maillard reaction in food processing means influencing specific flavors to provide taste recall and profile consistency for a particular brand.
Fascinating to know how this rather complex process contributes to and affects so much of what we eat and drink everyday, both visually in appearance, and flavors we taste. I imagine without even realizing, it influences what appeals to us and ultimately many of the choices we make for what we decide to consume as part of our daily diet.
Exactly, Vincent. It influences our senses as long as it recalls favorable memories in our past and shapes our choices on autopilot for most who don’t consciously know about our flavor mental mapping with food.
Vincent said it well. The final measure of our reaction to food is in the actual eating and savoring. Many have a very sophisticated pallet without knowing the essential chemistry behind it. Yet isn’t this true of so much of our creaturely responses. We don’t think of the chemistry primarily, but holistically, organismically. This is true even in our relationships with others. Our responses have a naive life free of conscious (and self-conscious) manipulations. We are instruments of a higher order of reality which is that between personal beings, including with God our Father Who simply asks us to Love above all.