In the kitchen, golden brown goodness doesn’t happen by accident.
As it turns out, there’s a bit of chemistry behind every fry, onion ring, piece of toast or cut of roast chicken—a chemical change known as the Maillard Reaction, without which modern cuisine, as we know it, would cease to exist.
Of course, you don’t need a lab coat and goggles to see the reaction at play—just some time, kitchen savvy and your favorite recipes!
Read on as we explore the Maillard Reaction and the chemist who lent his name to this quintessential cooking process. Dig in and take a look.
Kitchen, meet chem lab
You might remember learning about chemical reactions in high school science class: in every such reaction, reactants combine to create something new. Sure, the Maillard reaction doesn’t produce big bursts of smoke, or colorful liquids that fizz and froth up to the top, but it does result in something even better—the golden-brown crunch we love so much.
That crunch comes by way of amino acids and sugars in our food which, when paired with a high temperature, create that new substance. It might not look like something new—just a darker version of the food you’re cooking… but in reality, the taste is fundamentally different thanks to the creation of new flavor compounds. It’s why we love food that’s fried, grilled and roasted—it’s not just your imagination that the taste is better!
The French chemist Louis Camille Maillard definitely did not invent this reaction in the early 20th century—by then, cultures across the globe were already enjoying crispy, golden-brown dishes every day. Maillard did, however, discover the chemical reactants at play, lending a name and context to the process that cooks all over the world recognized, but never truly understood.
Achieving the perfect color
Fortunately, you don’t need to be a chemist to create a Maillard Reaction of your own. It’s an intuitive science, one you’re sooner to perfect from reading a cookbook than a textbook!
Still, there are a few tips you can follow to ensure the best possible color and texture. When it comes to steak, for example, many chefs will salt their meat ahead of time to aid in lowering the water content. When it comes to the Maillard Reaction, less water is better—there’s a reason why boiling food, for example, does not result in that much-coveted color. It’s all about heat, and the evaporation of any leftover water, to create a truly delightful crunch.
It’s worth remembering that the Maillard Reaction alone won’t result in the dark, smoky crust associated with blackened poultry and seafood. Grilling any of these meats on their own will turn them golden-brown, but that extra crisp touch comes by way of dredging your meat in butter and spices first.
Maillard’s greatest hits
Looking to enjoy the delicious products of a Maillard Reaction? You don’t need to look very far! Peach Valley favorites like our Fries, Onion Rings, and Griddled Muffins offer a delicious look at what the classic reaction can do. Even a dish as simple as Eggs & Toast delivers a perfect example of that browning action: the crisp edges of your fried egg, and the warm, crunchy surface of your toast, all exist thanks to the Maillard Reaction.
Who knew our favorite, golden brown goodies could be so… scientific? Enjoy the Maillard Reaction in action by digging into classic brunch and lunch bites here at Peach Valley Café, real soon.