Why Browned Meat Tastes Better

How the Maillard reaction makes not only meat, but also bread and coffee (among other foods) taste so much better

Kevin Lee
6 min readOct 19, 2020

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Photo by Joshua Kantarges on Unsplash

What do steak, toast, roasted coffee, and beer all have in common? They all undergo the Maillard reaction!

If you’re a meat-lover like I am, then you probably know that meat always tastes better when seared until it develops a beautiful brown crust. From hamburgers and steak to chicken breast to seafood, browning the surface is essential to creating a deliciously mouthwatering meat dish. Even braised meats or stew meat are typically seared first to impart additional flavor to the dish.

Surprisingly, the same process that causes seared meat to taste so delicious is also responsible for turning bread into toast, and for giving roasted coffee its distinctive flavor. The incredible chemical reaction that imparts all of these amazing flavors is called the Maillard reaction. It’s named after Louis Camille Maillard, the French scientist who was the first person to study this reaction. Pretty much any food you can think of that has that je ne sais quoi “roasted” or “charred” flavor to it, such as caramel or browned butter, owes much of its flavor to the Maillard reaction.

Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

What is the Maillard reaction?

Many people probably know of the Maillard reaction as the process by which food is browned. However, that is only one outcome of the reaction. The most important result is the wide array of flavors that are created, and that is why humans love food that has undergone Maillard reaction. While Louis Maillard published the first paper on the topic in 1912, it is still relatively unknown how the reaction exactly works to create such intricate flavors.

On a high level, the Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction that occurs between sugars and amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and can produce an astoundingly wide array of new compounds, each with their own characteristic flavors. These then go on to react with each other to create even more flavors and byproducts, making this…

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Kevin Lee
Food: Deconstructed

Software engineer by day, food enthusiast by night. Co-founder of The Mini Chef (www.theminichef.com)