Understanding Maillard Reaction

When you cook meat, have you wondered why the meat changes colour at different stages of cooking? This is because of the Maillard reaction. Wondering what is Maillard reaction? Well, let us find out.

Meet the Maillard Reaction
When we cook meat, the Maillard Reaction occurs and the amino acids in the meat react with the reducing sugars to form colours and flavours.

When meat is cooked, it changes colour and the flavours also change. This phenomenon is taken for granted by many cooks, but it is actually the result of chemical reactions that are caused when the temperature of the meat is increased. These chemical reactions were first studied by a French scientist by the name Louis Camille Maillard as part of his PhD thesis in the year 1912, so the reaction is known as the Maillard reaction.

Reaction with Amino Acids
Amino acids make up the group of chemicals which form the monomers for the important polymers which are known as proteins, so there are a lot of them that are available in a steak or joint of meat, for example. The important part of the amino acid is the amino group which is a nitrogen atom that is attached to two hydrogen atoms (-NH2).

Cooking Meat Starts the Reaction
The two chemicals exist side by side in meat, and these chemicals hardly react till the meat is heated. Then, the reaction speeds up greatly, with the amino group from the amino acid displacing the double-bonded oxygen. The nitrogen forms a double bond with the carbon, and a molecule of water is formed. A new molecule is called as isomers. These are called as Amadori compounds.

From this point a series of alternative reactions can occur, producing a range of different compounds, including two important flavour compounds known as furfural and hydroxy methyl furfural (HMF). The brown colours come from other products of the Maillard reaction called as melanodins.

The Maillard reaction forms colours and flavours in food that are appreciated by those who eat them. Some leaner, white meats do not have many reducing sugars, so they do not develop such a brown colour and have fewer flavours.

So the next time you cook meat and if it turns brown, you are sure to know the reason

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