Sunday, March 30, 2014

Effects of Maillard Reactions on Food Flavor


The flavor of cooked meat is the flavor that has drawn people to cook steaks, chicken, and hamburgers for years. This flavor is not a given for these products and can be changed drastically depending on the type of method used. There are differing ways to impart flavor on meat products when cooked. The Maillard reaction have effects on the flavor these foods.

The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned foods their desirable flavor. Seared steaks, pan-fried dumplings, breads, and many other foods make use of the effect. It is named after French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, who first described it in 1912 while attempting to reproduce biological protein synthesis.

The Maillard reaction occurs when there is an interaction between an amine group and a reducing sugar that go through three main steps to give color, flavor, and aromatics or odor characteristics. This reaction produces colored products that are high in molecular weight, generically called melanoidins, and are responsible for the browning mechanism in meats. It also produces the flavor and aromatic products that are associated with meat flavor. The Maillard reaction is the reaction that occurs when meat is subjected to high cooking temperatures.

The Maillard reaction occurs at ~310F. Since water boils at 212F, meat products that are cooked in water do not exhibit the products that are normally associated with that of the Maillard reaction.

Foods with Maillard Reactions

The Maillard reaction is responsible for many colors and flavors in foods:

1) The browning of various meats like steak
2) Toasted bread
3) Biscuits
4) Pretzels
5) French fries
6) Malted barley as in malt whiskey or beer
7) Dried or condensed milk
8) Roasted coffee
9) Dulce de leche
10) The darkened crusts of baked goods
11) Maple syrup
12) Chocolate roux

Maillard Reaction vs Caramelization

Caramelization is an entirely different process from Maillard browning, though the results of the two processes are sometimes similar to the naked eye (and taste buds). Caramelization may sometimes cause browning in the same foods in which the Maillard reaction occurs, but the two processes are distinct. They both are promoted by heating, but the Maillard reaction involves amino acids, as discussed above, whereas caramelization is simply the pyrolysis of certain sugars. The following things are a result of the Maillard browning reaction:

1) Caramel made from milk and sugar, especially in candies: Milk is high in protein (amino acids), and browning of food involving this complex ingredient would most likely include Maillard reactions.

2) Chocolate and maple syrup

3) Lightly roasted peanuts

In making silage, excess heat causes the Maillard reaction to occur, which reduces the amount of energy and protein available to the animals who feed on it.

Other Ways to Impart Flavor on Meat

Other ways of imparting flavor to meat is through the use of smokes or aromatics and other flavor enhancers used in the cooking process. As most know, the flavor profile that a charcoal grill imparts is quite different from that of a propane grill or electric grill. These flavor profile constituents have to do with the differences of what particulates are in the smoke. Charcoal grills impart a woody or smoky flavor to the products that are cooked on them and most people or consumers find the flavor pleasing. The type of flavor from these charcoal grills can be changed depending on the type of charcoal used, as well as by the heat of the charcoal. The heat of the charcoal has an impact due to the amount of exposure time that the meat has to the heat source. When the charcoal is burned in a grill, the production of aromatic compounds occurs. These aromatic compounds bind with the proteins in the meat to produce the pleasing flavor that consumers desire. 

Propane or gas grills can also impart flavor, but most do not impact the eating experience due to the low relative amount of aromatic compounds produced. Smoking meat or the use of smoke houses can also impart flavor to the meat. 

Warmed over flavor is a common flavor among reheated products. When meat is cooked, the proteins are denatured. This denaturation of proteins allows for inorganic chemicals such as iron to be released. Iron is a prooxidant, meaning that it has the affinity to take electrons from other molecules. These molecules such as fatty acids, myoglobin, and sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar proteins can be oxidized readily. The release of electrons, especially in fatty acids cause rancidity and can give the meat a pungent odor and taste. Most heat and eat entrees have some sort of antioxidant to halt the process. Oxidation in cooked meat can be 10 times that of fresh meat.

Read Related Post: Why Do We Use Cooking Oil When Cooking?


Chichester, C. O. 1986. Advances in Food Research (Advances in Food and Nutrition Research). Boston: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-016430-2.

Hodge, J.E. 1953. Dehydrated Foods, Chemistry of Browning Reactions in Model Systems. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

McGee, Harold. 2004. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Scribner, New York. ISBN 978-0-684-80001-1.

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