The Maillard Reaction: The Devil in Your Food

April 14, 2024

Maillard Reaction - The Devil in Your Food

Of course, it was described first in France! The Maillard reaction is all about flavor and "browning". It's the "roux" of fine French dining. The chemical reaction is simple. Sugars (carbs) and amino acids (meat) combine with all sorts of odd reactions that add flavor and pleasing aromas to food. Most chemical reactions are facilitated and controlled by enzymes. The Maillard reaction is "non-enzymatic", facilitated by heat. There are hundreds, if not thousands of them. Making gravy is basically mixing some butter or fat with some flour and then gradually stirring it while heating it. Voila! Gravy! Maillard.

America was founded on the "gravy" culture whereby every ounce of fat off the animal was combined with ground-up corn or wheat to make stews or gravies. We have now perfected the Maillard reaction with the barbecue grill. Take some meat, slather it with a sugar coating called barbecue sauce, then flame it with the grill on high heat.

You see, nature never did this. Wild animals don't cook. Nor did humans have access to sugar in great quantities until the 20th century. It was expensive and rare. Fuel has always been precious and carefully used. Many indigenous peoples used hot rocks to cook food very slowly, at lower temperatures. Then, we discovered oil and nuclear power, and electricity and gas became common. Factories could manufacture food in quantity with high pressure, high heat cooking. This is all a formula for mass Maillard. The problem is, it is so complex that it's hard to get a handle on it.

That picture is becoming more clear. It's been right before our eyes. Cancer. Dogs and cats, living in our homes, are dying of cancer at many times the rate compared to decades ago. What are they eating? Canned dog food. Maillard reaction soup. Both dogs and cats are descendants of carnivores, who age raw food. When they captured game, what did they eat first? The liver and internal organs. That's where the real nutrition lies. And they ate it raw.

The process is actually quite well-known. Maillard formation can be divided into three major stages depending on colored products. At the first stage, sugars and amino acids condense, and following condensation, "Amadori rearrangement and 1-amino-1deoxy-2 ketose" form. (I warned you: it's complex) In the second stage, dehydration and fragmentation occur to the sugars. Amino acids are also degraded in this stage. Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) fission products such as pyruvaldehyde and diacetyl are formed in this intermediate stage. This stage can be slightly yellow or colorless. In the final stage, aldol condensation occurs and finally, the heterocyclic nitrogenous compounds form, melanoidins, which are highly colored. Brown gravy. Grilled meat. Processed sausage.

If you just focus on one, acrylamide, you will find a highly carcinogenic compound. It is formed with just 60 seconds of microwaving. It is pervasive. And it's not just meat. Soybeans, a major foundation of many food products, has oil, protein and carbohydrates all in one little bean. What happens with high-pressure heating and "extrusion" of the oils and proteins? You got it. All sorts of Maillard products with names like furosine.

How about dairy products, produced with high-temperature pasteurization? How about pasta making? Traditional pasta processes were low temperature and took 3-4 days to complete. Modern machinery accelerates that to minutes with high temperature and guess the result. We can go on.

www.What will Work for me? I've had four dogs, two died of cancer at age 8. I've seen, it with my own eyes. I've seen dogs improve from mangy, malnourished animals to sleek, shiny, buff creatures on a raw food diet. I have walked through the pet store and seen the proliferation of freeze-dried raw meat products for dogs which our new puppy scarfs down like she has seen heaven on earth. If this is what the veterinary industry is turning to for our animals, what on earth are we humans tolerating all this Maillard reaction stuff for? I've measured my own acrylamide and was stunned to see how high it was. We so cheerfully eat those French fries, cooked at 400 degrees in soybean oil. No more! We eagerly look forward to our summer grilling and dig out that delicious barbeque sauce. Am I willing to go raw? Or at least lower-temperature cooking? I don't know. Change has to start with knowledge. But my achy heart for the death of our last loved dog from bladder cancer is being assuaged by the delight of a new cocker puppy, even if it involves waking at 2 am for a potty trip outdoors. And I'm buying her raw food. Simple.

References: Food Chemistry, Int Jr of Food Sci, The Grio,

Pop Quiz

1. What is the Maillard reaction? Answer: the abnormal chemical bonding of sugars to amino acids facilitated by high temperature.

2. Can you name some foods that have Maillard reaction products in high concentration? Answer: French fries. Anything grilled. Processed meats. But don't forget the pasteurized dairy, the high-temperature pasta, and the ultra-processed foods that sound so good for you.

3. What's the answer to reducing Maillard products in our food supply? Answer: raw food can be interpreted as more salads, and more vegetables. Cooking can be changed to lower-temperature stews and casseroles. This may explain some of the damage caused by "ultra-processed" foods, all of which are made with high-pressure, high-temperature foods.

4. Why haven't we heard more about this before this? Answer: There are 20+ amino acids and dozens of different sugars making for thousands of different combinations. The complexity is daunting. That inhibits the research. We humans are restless and don't eat the same food often. We like variety. Studying just what we eat is a very tasking process. That makes for long-term population studies, that are expensive and slow.

5. Name one chemical that can now be measured that is a product of high-temperature heating of potatoes and soybean products. Answer: acrylamide.