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The Maillard Reaction

Food Chemistry


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Food Chemistry – The Maillard Reaction

There’s one chemical reaction that, whether you have an interest in chemistry or not, we all carry out on a regular, maybe even daily, basis. That reaction? The Maillard Reaction. This is a process that takes place whenever you cook a range of foods – it’s responsible for the flavours in cooked meat, fried onions, roasted coffee, and toasted bread. The reaction’s name is a little deceptive, because it’s really an umbrella term for a number of reactions that can produce a complex range of products. The main stages, and some of the different classes of products, are summarised in this graphic.

The Maillard reaction takes its name from French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, who originally described the reaction between amino acids and sugars in 1912. His study did not offer much in the way of analysis on the reaction’s impact on flavour and aroma in cooking, however; it was not until the 1950s that its mechanisms and culinary contributions would become more clearly understood.

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