What is the Maillard reaction? – Visually and Tastefully Appealing

Ever wondered what produces that browned visually appealing and delicious outer layer on steak, among other foods?  If so, you’ve essentially asked yourself what the Maillard Reaction is, and w’re here to answer that question!

In the simplest explanation the maillard (pronounced “my-yard”) reaction is a series of chemical reactions that occur during cooking to brown the outer edges of food.  When sugars and proteins are presented with enough heat the reaction is able to take place. Luckily, a delicious meal is the outcome.

Requirements of the Maillard Reaction

There are a few basic requirements for the Maillard Reaction to occur.

what is the maillard reaction

First the actual edible item must have the required components : 

  • protein (amino acids – especially lysine)
  • reducing sugars (simple sugars with a smaller molecule size that attract the amino acids when the correct environment is present, these are often referred to as carbonyls and include fructose, lactose, and a form of glucose)

Next, The environment must be suitable for producing the chemical reaction:

  • heat (and a fairly high level of it!)
  • time (the amount will depend on temperature and moisture levels)
  • pH

The Process – Scientifically

The Maillard reaction is a series of chemical reactions that give browned food its colour and flavour.  These reactions occur between animo acids (proteins) and reducing sugars, as well as between the products of those initial reactions.


1) a sugar (more specifically it’s reactive carbonyl group) combines with an amino acid (more specifically its nucleophilic amino group)

2) The product of step 1 is rearranged into a glycosylamine (which in unstable in the current environment)

3) The product of step 3 is rearranged into an aminoketose by an intermediate [this aminoketose is known as the Amadori after a scientist that isolated the reaction compounds].

4) a few additional rearrangements later (producing a deoxy-hexosulose), are an endiol which is later converted into a deoxy-hexodiulose are the result and produce that much sought after flavour!

***the type of amino acid present in the initial reaction can have a large effect on the resulting flavour.  Not all components produced through the maillard reaction are beneficial to our health, and some molecules are even thought to be carcinogenic***


The Maillard Reaction was first described in 1912 by Louis Camille Maillard.  A french chemist who was actually studying biological protein synthesis at the time, and the browning process was named after him.

don’t forget to leave a comment about this post or what you’d like to see next

Further Information

Serious Eats Cooking Advice

The Spruce

Science Direct

Wikipedia – Maillard Reaction

Cooks Info

Science Geist

International Journal of Food Science

Check out our other recent articles too!

What Is Boanthropy?

What Is The World Bank?

What Is Red Rum?

Do Worms Have Eyes?

Common Curiosities

CC is here to help answer popular questions, strange queries and interesting facts for people like you. We hope you find what you’re looking for and feel free to leave any questions you would like to see here in the future on the suggested content page – new content is being added all the time! Stay Curious :)

You may also like...

6 Responses

  1. Kimber D says:

    Very interesting! I can easily get lost in a place that full of trivia, my curiosity for information on nearly any topic is a hard one to control at times. Ooops, I may have said too much about myself there. Seriously though, thank you for the post.

  2. Lakisha says:

    Very interesting! I knew meat browned when you cook it but, never thought about what the process would be called. I just thought it was cooking..I learned something new today, so thank you for writing this post.

    I don’t eat steak much but, this article makes me want to go and experiment. When I attempt to cook a steak next time, I will pay more attention to the temperature and see if I can taste the difference in the meat flavor.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for reading Lakisha! There are plenty of other foods that you could experiment with as well, steak was just one example. Other meats, coffee beans,and even toast may be more to your liking 🙂

  3. Nic says:

    I’m a bit of science geek myself and love cooking. So this was really interesting to me. I’ve known about the Maillard reaction for awhile but never had it explained to me in detail. I will make sure to check back for more interesting facts!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *