For many of us, the smell of bacon sizzling in the pan or burgers smoking on the grill makes our mouths water. What is it that flavors meat and leaves us craving more?
Umami, together with fat, gives meat its irresistible flavor. Paul Breslin, a nutritional sciences professor at Rutgers University, tells Tampa Bay Times, "When you think you're craving meat, most likely what you're really craving is fat." The unique mixture of fat and umami, a savory taste, creates a particular texture of creaminess and juiciness within meat.
Substances responsible for the umami taste include: glutamate (such as parmesan cheese, soy sauce, sun-dried tomatoes and many meats), inosinate (found in meat and fish) and guanylate (like dried mushrooms). When a number of these substances combine, the umami taste intensifies to what chefs are calling a “u-bomb.”
In order to reach the u-bomb or even a simple umami taste, meat must go through the Maillard Reaction, which is a process that happens when it is cooked. The Maillard Reaction stands as one of the most important flavor-producing reactions within the process of cooking.
Many scientists have researched the Maillard Reaction including a FEMA Excellence in Flavor Science Award winner, Chi-Tang Ho, Ph.D. of Rutgers University. He describes the reaction as one between protein and carbohydrates, which when combined creates flavor for your food.
The marriage between these elements also produces the change in color and aroma of food and lets you know when it’s safe to eat.
It’s the strong scents produced within the Maillard Reaction that have one of the biggest effects on our meat cravings. Think about it: how appetizing is a plate of raw meat, versus a hot platter of burgers right off of the grill? In fact, the reaction that occurs during grilling of meat gives off one of the most powerful aromas of all foods when cooked.
Vegetarians, you’re not exempt from the magic of the Maillard Reaction. The reaction is also behind our love for roasted coffee and freshly baked cookies and breads. Thus, the Maillard Reaction holds its reputation as one of the most important and powerful flavor-producing reactions within cooking.
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