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.

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

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.
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!


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!

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).


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.


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.


Hello, everyone! Today I went over to:


BAOHAUS is a fun little restaurant that serves up hot bao, or steamed Chinese-style bread with yummy food sandwiched in it. It’s located in New York City, and if you do a quick Google search you’ll find that it’s got a lot of what the hip kids these days call “clout.”

Here’s the scenery that awaits you when you walk inside:


It’s got a street-style vibe (and plenty of rap music blasting in the background) along with a visible kitchen where you can see them frying up some fresh chicken. YUM!

I ordered two different kids of bao-–one Birdhaus, which is a chicken bao, and one Chairman, which is a pork bao. Official menu descriptions below.

Anyway, those go for $4.55, $4.05, and $3.95, respectively, which is a bit pricey considering it takes at least 3 or 4 bao to fill you up. Eh. I also got a jelly lemonade, which is basically pieces of lemon jelly suspended in cold lemonade.
obligatory food pic.

Here you’ll see my chicken bao in the front, with the pork bao hanging out sneakily in the back. Ai-Yu jelly lemonade on the side.


First impressions: you don’t really get to the sauce until the last three bites of the dang thing, which hurts my soul. The Birdhaus was surprisingly a bit sweet, which worked really well. The pork was *very* fatty, so much so that I had to lop off a good chunk of pork fat to get to the meat. But if it’s piping hot, I think eating the fatty parts would also go really well with the bao flavor.


All in all? BAOHAUS is great for a cheap midnight snack (it’s open until 3AM on weekends!) but maybe not if you’re starving for lunch.