A wise man once said “Bacon makes it better”. Bacon is the king of foods, and along with Sriracha and beer, makes up one point in the noble food triumverate. But what is it about bacon that makes it so good? Apart from the fried pig fat and the salt it was cured in, one of the most alluring things about bacon is the smell; Nothing smells like bacon cooking in the kitchen. The smell of cooking bacon is responsible for many of history’s greatest moments.* Legend even has it that the Second World War was won by luring the Nazis out of their hiding places by wafting the smell of bacon over the battlefield, where they were quickly dispatched.**
But what is happening when you cook bacon that makes it so mouthwateringly delicious? And what does this have to do with beer?
You know the smell you get when steeping a pot of crystal malt? Smells of warm biscuits and milkshakes and bygone days of warmth and safety. The same chemical reaction which creates the smell of toasted malt is responsible for the smell of cooking bacon. We attribute the discovery of this chemical reaction to French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, who first described it in 1912 while attempting to reproduce biological protein synthesis.
We call this a Maillard reaction. A Maillard reaction is one where sugars are activated with the application of heat, causing a pleasant smell, and giving rise to the flavours we find in things like bread and toast, seared steak, malted barley and of course, bacon. Longer cooking and higher temperatures create different smells, and depending on the chemicals present in the substance being cooked, different flavours become more apparent. In beer, the same reaction is responsible for the yellows of a Pilsner, the oranges of IPA, the reds of English ales, and the black in porters and stouts. In each of these cases, the barley or wheat has undergone a Maillard reaction, creating the biscuity, crackery, bready, warm flavours in beer, as well as at the dark end of the spectrum, the chocolate and coffee tones found in dark beers.
The process, according to Wikipedia, is this:
The carbonyl group of the sugar reacts with the amino group of the amino acid, producing N-substituted glycosylamine and water
The unstable glycosylamine undergoes Amadori rearrangement, forming ketosamines
There are several ways for the ketosamines to react further:
Produce 2 water and reductones
Diacetyl, aspirin, pyruvaldehyde and other short-chain hydrolytic fission products can be formed
Produce brown nitrogenous polymers and melanoidins
I don’t understand it either, but what I do know is that without Maillard reactions, many of the foods and beverages we enjoy today would not be possible. Maillard did not invent this reaction, he only described it. But thanks to him and his rigorous science, we can give a name to the wonderful process that gives us the smell of cooking bacon and the maltiness of beer.***
Keep on SCIENTZING!
*I made that up.
** This is also a complete fabrication.
*** The rest of this post is true.
Categories: All The Scientz | Tags: bacon, beer, chemistry, Maillard, Maillard reactions, malt, physics, science, Scientzing 4 Beer | Permalink.