The Maillard reaction, named after the French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard who first described it in 1912, is one of the most important reactions to consider in cooking. Technically, it describes the reaction between amino acids and sugars that give foods that have been ‘browned’ their desirable flavour. It takes place at temperatures of 140-165 degrees, and is accelerated in dry conditions. Thus the surface of bread dough that has been dried by a hot oven will experience the Maillard reaction and form a crust.
The Maillard reaction produces hundreds of different flavour molecules, the combinations and permutations of which vary with ingredients and conditions. When the temperature gets too high the reaction becomes one of caramelisation or charring.
Understanding the Maillard reaction is a foundation stone of good cookery – and controlling it fundamental. Progressive bartenders are increasingly exploring the potential of subjecting ingredients to the reaction when considering flavours for their cocktails, adding a further dimension to the creative possibilities offered by their craft.