This chemical reaction between amino acids from protein and carbohydrates exposed to high temperatures produces both browning and pleasant flavor changes in foods that are not made primarily of sugars: Bread crusts, roasted coffee beans and nuts, beer, and dry-heat cooked (roasted, fried, baked, sauteed) meats, for example. The reaction was first described by French biochemist Louis-Camille Maillard in 1912. The Maillard reaction happens quickly only at high temperatures, which is why foods that are cooked in boiling water, which has a maximum temperature of 212 degrees, do not brown on the exterior. In foods composed primarily of sugars, the chemical reaction that accounts for browning (and its culinary term) is “caramelization.”

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