We often prepare dishes thanks to phenomena that we consider normal, but that we know very little.

One of these is the “Maillard reaction“, a very important and extremely widespread phenomenon that occurs every day in every kitchen, but it is unfortunately little known.
And that’s a shame because through a greater mastery of this phenomenon it would be possible to exploit its incredible effects even more.

But let’s start from the beginning.

What is it?


Dulce de leche Credit: www.commons.wikimedia.org

If you didn’t know, the Maillard reaction is a non-enzymatic browning reaction (just like the caramelization which we discussed last time) that generates aromatic, savory and colourful molecules.
The result is that tasty, brown and crispy crust that forms on foods that undergo this reaction such as meat or a simply slice of bread.

However as opposed to the caramelization (during which only sugars are involved), the Maillard reaction requires both sugars and proteins (more exactly amino acids).

As we said before, few people are familiar with this reaction despite it is used almost every day in the kitchens, but a good knowledge of it enables you to make a better use of its effects to prepare perfect dishes.
So let’s try to find out more.

The Structure

In the Maillard reaction sugars and proteins bind to each other thanks to the heat energy.
There must necessarily be both: if one is missing, the reaction does not take place and we get something different (in the case of only sugars, we get the caramelization)

Vegetables have usually large amounts of both, but the real attraction is the meat which has high protein and low sugar. The tasty crust makes it a delicacy and so people are willing to do anything to get it.
For this reason we marinate it with lemon, wine or honey, which are rich in sugars, essential for the success of the reaction.


Maillard reaction on a steak Credit: www.pixabay.com

Obviously, the reaction does not occur if you boil a food because the water places itself among the proteins and sugars, preventing the bond.
By frying, by contrast, the reaction takes place easily because the oil represents a less prohibitive obstacle.

The Maillard reaction takes place above 140° C but below 180° C.
An imperfect temperature control can lead to the dehydration of the food, which will harden.
The browning process will not happen and you won’t be able to enjoy the fantastic flavours that this reaction produces.
If the temperature is too high, the food burn and form toxic elements that must be avoided.


WARNING! It is essential not interfere with the preparation: regardless from where you are cooking your ingredients, the temperature should already be high before cooking your food to prevent that proteins and sugars degrade themselves.

Once you start cooking, do not touch anything! If you turn the meat or open the oven door, the temperature varies and it’s not constant and the reaction will not have a great success.

Furthermore, by adding basic substances such as bicarbonate, the reaction is faster and the result is definitely better.
The brown colour is the evidence of a good preparation, so pay close attention to the temperature and follow these small but important tips to make a good use of one of the most important culinary reactions!

Some bread, a cake or a tasty steak, give a crispy and fragrant note to your dishes!

Because crunchy is better!