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
Bacon, Science and Protein = Our Love for Bacon
Here at the Republic of Bacon, we love to offer you proof that your love of bacon is not just in your head. It’s a scientific fact that bacon is delicious. We’ve already talked a little about why the cooking of bacon makes it delicious. But what about before the cooking – does bacon start out delicious? The answer, of course, is yes. And the reason is because of the special way that bacon is prepared: its curing.
Meat, if you didn’t know, is largely made up of animal protein and the associated fat. Strangely enough, though, protein, on its own, does not have a lot of flavour. As we mentioned before, what gives meat its flavour are the by-products of protein – those thousands of flavourful amino acids – when it is broken down. Although there is always some natural breakdown of proteins before any cooking begins, the process is accelerated by cooking. Hence, the deliciousness of browned meat.
But bacon’s secret weapon – what makes it potentially even more delicious than other meats – is the curing that is used in bacon’s preparation. Curing is done in many ways, but the most common are dry and wet curing. Most of the bacon we eat today is wet cured, which means it has been prepared in a brine (salt water) solution. Although this was originally meant to help make bacon last longer, it is now largely done to make bacon taste better.
The reason it improves bacon’s flavour is because curing helps start bacon’s protein breakdown sooner. In particular, the brine solutions helps increase the concentration of the amino acid glutamic acid. And glutamic acid has been associated with that delicious, meaty flavour that we all love.
As well, the fats in bacon also break down in the curing process into thousands of different chemicals. Some of these natural chemicals are what give other foods their particular flavours: apple, melon, citrus and butter. These are combined with the caramel flavours that are naturally produced when meats are browned. The overall result is the complex, endlessly captivating scent and flavour of bacon.
And with so many different flavour notes, it is no wonder that bacon works so well with so many different foods. Pairing bacon with the sweetness of apples and melons, for instance, brings those flavour notes in bacon out.
So, there you have it: further proof that bacon is delicious. But you didn’t need that, you can tell already! But if you have any bacon-doubters in your life, be sure to tell them why they need to give bacon a second chance.
Why is it that other foods need to be wrapped, stuffed or injected with bacon to make it better? Curious little bit to think about. What else do you think bacon would be fantastic with?