Why do we love bacon? You’d think that due to its longstanding appeal, scientists would have long ago figured out why we like it so much. But it was only recently that we found a convincing – and sciency! – reason for why bacon is so delicious.
Elin Roberts, a “science communication manager,” (I’m not quite sure what that is) spoke to the Daily Telegraph about bacon’s enduring appeal. As Ms Roberts says, “The smell of sizzling bacon in a pan is enough to tempt even the staunchest of vegetarians. There’s something deeper going on inside. It’s not just the idea of a tasty snack. There is some complex chemistry going on.”
Apparently it all has to do with the Maillard reaction, which is when reduced sugars react with amino acids under heat. As they do, they produce a wide range of molecules that vary in flavour and smell. It is one of the reactions that produces the flavour of toasted bread, roasted coffee, chocolate and caramel. In fact, this reaction is at the basis of the flavour industry.
I’ll let Ms Roberts take over: “Meat is made of mostly protein and water. Inside the protein, it’s made up of building blocks we call amino acids. But also, you need some fat. Anyone who’s been on a diet knows if you take all the fat from the meat, it just doesn’t taste the same. We need some of the fat to give it the flavour. Fats mean that there are some reducing sugars in there as well. When it’s really hot – that’s when the Maillard reaction starts.”
With all of those various molecules being created, the air above your frying pan or around your stove is soon filled with various smells. These form that complex scent that is difficult to describe, but that most people find so appealing. This also explains why adding sugar to your bacon can make it taste better: you are improving the chances that the Maillard reaction will occur between some sugar and the proteins in the meat.
The next time you are cooking up your bacon, remember to thank the Maillard reaction. Without it, we wouldn’t have that bacon-y flavour to enjoy