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Our Blog: Chocolate Talk

Caramelization vs. Maillard reaction

Hungry Hedonists who enjoy cooking or food likely have heard the terms “Caramelization” and  “Maillard reaction” in relation to their favorite meals or desserts. Chances are, they may have even confused the two, that's OK! This is here to help you impress your friends, coworkers, or your boss the next time you sweeten their day.

For the sake of brevity I will be focusing on the “chewy and well balanced” centers of our Salted Caramels. Notebooks ready?

Carnivores may have heard of the Maillard Reaction because it is often brought up in discussions of grilling, frying, and other popular aspects of meat preparation, such as searing. The Maillard reaction is named after the late 19th century French chemist and physician Louis Camille Maillard.  Forty years later, a formal mechanism was worked out and published.

The Maillard reaction is broadly defined as the chemical process that occurs between amino acids and sugars at high temperatures; it is what gives food complex flavors. This is not limited to meat. The Maillard reaction can be applied to all foods,  including vegetables, breads, eggs, even vegan foods; so long as they are prepared at high temperatures and contain amino acids. The key phrase is “amino acid”, which are the building blocks of animal and plant protein.

The presence of protein is the determining factor, not sugar. All foods that humans enjoy eating possess a quantity of sugar.

In contrast, if there is no protein involved , the process is considered caramelization.

Caramelization is a form of pyrolysis, which is a generic term to denote any irreversible chemical decomposition driven by heat, more specifically in the absence of oxygen. The word itself is derived from the Greek roots “pyro” meaning fire, and “lysis” meaning separating. Pyrolysis occurs outside of culinary endeavors. For example, when wood is converted into charcoal orwhen  buried organic matter turns into a fossil. If the sugars are heated excessively  pyrolsis is easier to distinguish from caramelization. Sugar that has undergone extensive pyrolysis will be darker and much more bitter. For example, bread dough will transform from a delicious bun into an inedible black lump if left in the oven for too long.

In our case, inverted sugar syrup is converted into two distinct products; glucose, the form of sugar most commonly found in human blood, and fructose, which is found in honey, fruits, and vegetables. As this conversion takes place, a variety of volatile chemicals are released, these are what give our caramels their color and flavor.

If it seems as though I have been focusing more on pyrolysis, you have been paying attention! Despite using the process on a daily basis, modern chemistry does not know much more. Caramelization is a very complicated process, generating hundreds of different chemical products.  It is an example of pyrolysis in a carefully controlled, culinary context.

The combination of caramelization and the Maillard reaction is what produces our award winning Salted Caramels and ice cream. Try some today! jj

Pleasure, handcrafted. Hedonist Artisan Chocolates are handmade with fresh ingredients to give as gifts or indulge yourself.
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