What is a Maillard Reaction?

The Maillard Reaction, or sometimes it is more commonly known as the Maillard Browning Reaction, is a chemical reaction between an amino acid (or a protein) and a reducing sugar. The two chemicals form a new compound that is significantly altered from a simple amino acid and a simple sugar. The new compound may exhibit lower water solubility than either of the two chemicals separately. The new compound may impart a new flavor. Although the Maillard Reaction has been a practical part of cooking food since prehistoric times, it was only scientifically observed and studied about 100 years ago. Most people with knowledge of the Maillard Reaction in food products think that heat (of the extreme such as is used in cooking) is necessary in order for the reaction to proceed. In actual fact, however, the reaction has been proven to proceed even while food products are stored at refrigerated temperatures over prolonged storage times. Again, most people with knowledge of the reaction would say that “browning” of food products is a part of the reaction. In actual fact, the Maillard reaction will occur in food products many times without any occurrence of ”browning.” The “browning” stage of the reaction can occur at the end stages, after sufficient water has disappeared from the food product. As the Maillard Reaction occurs in food products, new flavors are produced. Depending on the type of reducing sugar involved and the amino acid with which the sugar reacts, hundreds of different flavors result from a Maillard Reaction. The resultant Maillard flavors can be beneficial or bad for a food product. Some of the more common food items that are dependent on the Maillard Reaction for beneficial flavor development:

  • Toasted Bread
  • Many Bakery Products
  • Malted Grains (Beer, Whiskey)
  • Meats cooked at high temperature (BBQ, Broil)
  • Condensed Milk
  • Aged Dried Milk (staling)
  • Dulce de leche
  • Crème brûlée

Since MPC contains both protein and a reducing sugar, lactose, one can expect Maillard Reactions to occur when MPC is used in food applications. In many cases, the reaction will be desirable. In some cases, however, the reaction will produce undesirable results. In those instances, precautions must be taken to prevent the reaction from occurring.