06 May 2010

The Maillard Reaction

Image via Wikipedia
I just watched Julie & Julia the other night. Such a delightful movie, it surely is! Someone once said cooking is chemistry in action. Well, cooking is chemistry indeed! We have acids and bases (e.g., vinegar and lye), we have phase changes (ice freezing, butter melting—oooh butter! You can never have too much butter!), we have stirring, mixing, whipping, you name it. Cooking IS chemistry. And what is cooking without fire? It’s like bread without butter, Coke without spirit, white cheese without, oh well, white cheese is so good even on its own anyway. But the point is, the application of heat has always been the most basic rudiment of cooking ever since the caveman had discovered fire. Anyway, one recipe from the movie that stuck to me the most was this dish Julie prepared the night Julia’s editor was supposed to come over at their humble place above the pizzeria: beef bourguignon. And I immediately thought: Maillard reaction! Okay, maybe not really immediately but just before I was writing this entry. It’s the complicated reaction responsible for the browning of meat and for the meaty taste of meat, that distinct umami flavor we all crave for when we dig into a big slab of marvelous steak. And you thought the meat turning brown during cooking was the simplest example of things on their way to utter incineration, didn’t you?

Why we just absolutely adore MSG on our dishes is that monosodium glutamate is essentially glutamate, an amino acid naturally present in meat. Add to that all imaginable sugars present in the pan and some nice temperature workup and we got all the things we need for the Maillard reaction to occur. Get ready for some serious killer dish baby! Talk about an explosion of sensory delights! No wonder the Chinese inundate their recipes with MSG!

P.S. I can say I am really inspired by this Julie & Julia movie. Cooking (chemistry!) and blogging. Oh dear. I think I’m gonna have a heart attack. Enjoy your steaks, my fellow readers!