Nonenzymatic, or oxidative, browning is a chemical process that produces a brown color in foods without the activity of enzymes. The two main forms of nonenzymatic browning are caramelization and the Maillard reaction. Both vary in reaction rate as a function of water activity.
Caramelization is the pyrolysis of sugar. It is used extensively in cooking for the resulting nutty flavor and brown color. As the process occurs, volatile chemicals are released, producing the characteristic caramel flavor.
The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, usually requiring the addition of heat. The sugar interacts with the amino acid, producing a variety of odors and flavors. The Maillard reaction is the basis of the flavoring industry, since the type of amino acid involved determines the resulting flavor; it also produces toast.
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“You called me, and I came home to your heart.”
—Robert Browning (18121889)