in various ways to produce even more molecules.
It is the large combination of all these different molecules that gives cooked food its colour, taste and
smell. The final taste perceived on eating a piece of food depends on the profile of all these different
molecules produced, and their concentrations. For example, the taste of roast beef contains over 600
of these sorts of molecules.
All these reactions are collectively known as the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction occurs most
rapidly at temperatures of around 150-250 °C, but if there is a high concentration of sugars and amino
acids, then it will occur at lower temperatures. The reaction is thus favourised in dry conditions, and
will only really start to occur in cooking when all the water from a food source has evaporated, and
temperatures can therefore exceed 100 °C.
Maillard reactions are also affected by pH – in an acidic environment, a totally different combination of
molecules are formed to when in an alkaline environment, so the resulting taste will be totally different.
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Role in cooking
In cooking, simple sugars have two main roles – firstly they are responsible for the sweet tastes of
some foods, and can be used to sweeten other dishes. As well as being used to attribute sweetness
directly to a dish, sugar can be added to reduce the perceived bitterness or sourness of a dish, and it
has also been shown to enhance our perception of other flavours.
Secondly, since they are major players in the Maillard reactions, they are also generally responsible
for the generation of flavour and taste produced by cooking.
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What should be known about culinary ingredients: Proteins
What are proteins?
Like other major food groups, proteins are big molecules composed of smaller repeated subunits
called amino acids residues. However, unlike the other food group subunits, the protein subunits
contains the atom nitrogen as well as the atoms carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The basic structure of
an amino acid is shown below: