The Science Behind the Maillard Reaction and Delectable Food

It isn’t a requirement to be a good cook to know what delicious food tastes like or what your preferences are. However, consuming such delectables does incite the need to recreate that experience and hope for the best. It can be a little daunting to learn how to cook. But the secret to having great food may be credited to the science behind the Maillard Reaction. 

The Maillard Reaction is defined in chemistry as a reaction between amino acids and sugar. It can be a little questionable how this can even come into play in the kitchen since a chemist had first discovered it, but many principles of this chemical reaction can be seen in cooking and baking. 

Here’s a walkthrough of the science behind the Maillard reaction in the kitchen:

Needing Protein and Sugar

To have the Maillard reaction, the two most crucial components needed are amino acids and sugars. Amino acids are found in many protein-rich foods such as eggs, meat, and fish. Red meat and chicken are great examples when discussing the Maillard Reaction.

When it comes to sugar, it’s reduced via the stove or the oven to have an enzymatic reaction with the protein-filled components in a dish. It’s a little different from the caramelization of the sugar, which occurs on its own without interacting with amino acids.

Using the Right Amount of Heat

Heat is required for the chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars to occur.  It has to be at a specific temperature that suits both components. Charring and burning the meats and sugar due to high heat isn’t ideal at all and may result in an unfavorable taste.

Alternatively, low heat will also hinder the reaction from occurring. Steak has to be cooked with a temperature that’s higher than 140°C or 145°C. When maintaining that heat and letting your meat sizzle and cook, the end result will arrive at a more luscious taste. 

Creating the Mouthwatering Smell

The Maillard Reaction is characterized by the scent that it is able to bring. Thanks to how the amino acids and sugars react together, it helps bring the best aroma out of your ingredients and cooking. 

Freshly baked bread of newly fried steak can really just be mouthwatering to catch a whiff of. It can be a good indicator for a chef to know that they’ve achieved the Maillard Reaction when their dish smells very attractive and perfectly cooked. 

Presenting Golden Brown Goodness

Aside from appealing to a person’s sense of smell, the result of creating the Maillard Reaction for your dish is also found in the presentation. Having a golden brown surface of any pastry dish or meat can be exciting to look at and dig into. 

The best-kept secret of achieving the Maillard Reaction in savory dishes would probably be the simple composition of brown butter. Although every ingredient should be dry upon hitting the pan, heated brown butter adds just the right amount of moisture and tan.


In retrospect, it can seem relatively easy to achieve the Maillard Reaction. It can take much more practice than needed, though, especially when you’re new to cooking. With enough guidance and repetition, you’ll be able to create the Maillard Reaction in no time.

Looking for a private chef in Asheville to teach you how it’s done? Food Fire+Knives is a personal catering service that provides cooking classes for newbie chefs who want to learn. Get in touch with us today!

Published By Michael Casciello