3 ways food browns

“Cooking isn’t an exact science,” you often hear chefs say. “It’s a passion.”

I beg to differ. Cooking is a very exact science. In fact, exact sciences can be used to explain one of the most common things food does: brown.

Let’s begin!

There are, in my opinion, 3 main ways food tends to turn a brown color.

  1. The brown you see when cooking a steak.
  2. The brown you see when making syrup.
  3. The brown you see when you leave a cut apple out on the counter for too long.

The third is by far the most tragic, so let’s get the worst over with: enzymic browning.

Enzymic browning is the browning seen in fruit, like apples or bananas, when cut.

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oh, the tragedy. (NutriNeat)

Fruits (like apples) contain things called phenolic compounds, which contribute to the aroma/flavor of the fruit. Fruits also contain enzymes.

Basically, what happens is that those enzymes catalyze a process called oxidation, where the plant cells are damaged and become exposed to oxygen. Oxidation turns the phenolic compounds to quinone compounds, which cause the fruit to appear brown.

This process can be stopped by either keeping the oxygen from being exposed to the broken cells (aka Mom’s cling film method) or by applying a strong acid (aka lemon juice or whatever) to the damaged cells so as to slow down the work of the enzymes.

Now, you can eat not-brown yummy fruits whenever (and impress your chem teacher?)

2. Caramelization

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ah, the lovely smell of caramel being made at a carnival. JK, this is someone’s kitchen.

Caramelization is the process of sugar being heated and becoming brown. But why?

(I looked it up so you don’t have to.)

When sugar is heated, a number of chemical reactions form. Polymers, for example caramelans, caramelens, and caramelins (I had a good laugh realizing they’re pronounced almost all the same), are formed and help create the characteristic brown flavor, while the breakdown of sugars make your food taste sweeter.

Sugars, the star of this process, are also actually molecules that are carbon-based, meaning they’ve got carbons hiding in their structures. Heat does a pretty good job at breaking those bonds between the atoms.

What do we know about carbon? We know it’s black.

So when the sugars (usually complex sugars) are broken down into more simple sugars, carbon is also released, helping to make your syrup––candy?––appear more brown.

Note: If you overdo it, the sugars will break down completely and you’ll have a mess. Don’t do that.

3. The Maillard Reaction

Now, across the internet, this reaction has been called probably the most fantastic chemical reaction to exist in cooking. Ever. 

Imagine this: there’s a juicy steak in front of you, seared to perfection, the brown crust glistening as meat juice oozes out of it with the first slice. You take a bite. It’s full of meaty, nutty flavors. Umami. Happiness.

I’m drooling a little bit.

For those of you interested in the specifics, keep reading. If you want a Sparknotes-friendly version, scroll until you see the steak photo.

The Maillard reaction happens in three distinct steps.

  1. The amino group on an amino acid or a protein reacts with the carbonyl group of a sugar molecule, forming glycosylamine.
  2. The glycosylamine undergoes isomerization via Amadori rearrangement to form the Amadori compound ketosamine.
  3. The ketosamine reacts to produce one of 1000+ possible product molecules which all have different flavor profiles, contribute to browning, and can even react further in some cases.
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Courtesy of bimi.jorudan.co.jp. I think I could die happy eating this.

You’re here for the simplified version. I get it. Not all of us have the time or mental energy to try to understand chemistry. (I was allergic to it in high school. I feel the struggle.)

The rundown is: (Sugars + Protein) + heat = browning + flavor!

What’s important to note is that some products of the Maillard reaction are known/possible carcinogens, so just try not to char anything too badly.


And there you have it!

I hope this post was informational (and somewhat fun to read), so that maybe at your next dinner party you can bust out the science and wow your guests.

Until next time!

-mini

P.S. This post was created with a bunch of research––courtesy of the internet machine––on my part, but if anything is wrong, please let me know!

sobaya 2.17.18

hello, folks! on this day I visited Sobaya, one of my absolute favorites when it comes to Japanese food in East Village.

Hm. To be absolutely honest with you, I visited twice. But I assure you, that just means you get to see more menu content!

Sobaya is famous for its handmade soba noodles, but I heard from a friend that their udon noodles were actually to die for. Thus, I dragged someone with me so I could taste two dishes: the tororo (grated yam) udon and the curry udon.

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Here’s the tororo udon.

Thoughts: Regrettably, the tororo melted into the soup as I mixed it, and the dish as a whole lost its signature sliminess. BUT the taste was rich with dashi stock, and quite good!

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On the second visit I ordered this salmon sashimi rice bowl set, which came with mushroom soup and pickles. The fish was incredibly fresh and tasty, and the shoyu (soy sauce) used was also very good. The perilla leaf was a very nice touch.

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For dessert I ordered this anmitsu, a Japanese dessert made of agar, fruit, red bean, some mochi rice cakes, and green tea ice cream. Bonus points for the sugar syrup to pour on top!

Overall, Sobaya is an amazing location to eat at if you’re in East Village. It seems to get pretty crowded mid-dinner time, so I suggest going early. 10/10!

Boka 2.16.18

I think I need to start off by apologizing for leaving Eat Mini alone for so long. (Which, I mean, I’m only disappointing maybe… Two people? Yeah?) As you must know, I am a college student first and foremost, and it’s quite difficult to post content if I’m not eating real food in the first place. Oops.

But my complaining about my assignments is not what you’re here for, if you’re here at all. Onto the food!

I recently visited Boka, a Korean restaurant in East Village of New York City. The cleanliness rating is… a B, sadly, but that didn’t deter me from going inside. And I’m kind of glad I didn’t! Here’s the rundown:

Boka is known for its Korean fried chicken, so I made sure to order that. It comes in a spicy sauce or soy garlic (I ordered the latter).

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Both the drumsticks and wings were crispy and oh-so-delicious––they even kindly provided me with a bucket to discard my bones.

Pro tip: I heard when I was very young that if you don’t eat chicken wings cleanly, they won’t go to heaven. So I always eat the skin, fat, and cartilage…anything that isn’t bone.

As a longtime fan of Korean tofu soup, I also ordered that.

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Bubbling and piping hot, this is all you really need for a cold night (or even a hot night, in my opinion. Fight fire with fire).

Overall, I really enjoyed Boka and I’d definitely go there again. 9.5/10, if only for the “B” rating glaring at me from the window.