A simple pleasure for many people is the humble taste and smell of bacon. It is a scent that some of us not only are comforted by but one that reminds us of Sunday mornings at home with piles of pancakes and your ma wearing that lovely pink and white dressing gown with bunny slippers. But have you ever wondered why you like bacon so much? Why you have ever liked any smell so much? Why the sudden lingering of salty fat in the air makes you yearn, that makes your mouth water? Maybe you are thinking about it as you read this (god knows I am thinking about it while I write it).
Researchers have uncovered the science behind the alluring and enduring appeal of frying bacon. It results in a complex chemical interaction (but we are all scientists here, so we will try to understand!) in the meat, and this is what produces the winning combination of taste and smell of bacon. At the centre of it all is the Maillard Reaction (which you will all remember from the cookie science month!) which is a chemical reaction that occurs between an amino acid (the things that help build proteins in your body and other bodies, making up simple muscle structures in the cell membrane, like a building block!) and a reducing sugar, that often requires heat. When the heat is applied the acid and the sugar react to release a humungous amount of smells and flavours (initiate drool mechanism).
So it is not just the idea of a tasty bacon filled snack, there is a deeper chemistry at work here. Have you ever found it odd that even a lot of long time vegetarians, vegan and even some Jewish people who don’t eat (or have never eaten) bacon still enjoy the sweet caramel scent of it wafting through the air? Meat, is made primarily of protein (which are made of amino acids) and water. But there is also a certain percentage of fats; anyone who has been on a diet will know that if you take all the fat away from a piece of meat, it really just does not taste the same. We need some of that fat (not heaps, but at least a small bit) to give the meat a bit of moisture and flavour. Fats mean that there are some reducing sugar in there as well. So, when it gets really hot inside the fat on a piece of meat, the Maillard Reaction applies. The reaction, just like when you are baking cookies, releases hundreds of smells and flavours, but it is the SMELL of bacon that really pulls you in. How many organic compounds do you think are in the diverse aroma of fried bacon?
150 volatile organic compounds detected in a recent analysis of the aroma of fried bacon. To get these compounds out into the air, the bacon needs to be heated with the Maillard Reaction occurring but also a thermal breakdown of fats which leads to the godly waftage. Science has been able to verify these compounds through gas chromatography along with mass spectrometry. This distinct scent of bacon is made up of nitrogen containing compounds such as pyridines and pyrazines, which each have independent odours but when they are both present in combination with other compounds, these are the likely culprits of bacons illustrious odour. Other meaty adversaries such as furans and pyridines who have already been charged with meaty aromas, are also present in bacon and are contributors to the glorious scent. Perhaps a little disappointing that it is not a lone compound that we can attribute to the mouth watering scent of bacon, but the difficulty in ascribing them has not halted the attempts of some to capture its essence in perfume form.
Till next time science lovers
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