What can Brown do for you? – Lessons from Maillard Browning and Caramelization

At superbites, we are crazy about all things nuts. And we’re total suckers when you add science to the mix. We have often been asked, ‘Why roast nuts?’. Well, there are two reasons for that: (1) Roasted nuts taste brilliant; and (2) Roasting makes nuts even more nutritious!

‘Lets Science the shit out of this!’

Nuts are loaded with phytochemicals that are absolutely great for you. But research suggests that the human body can only access these nutrients if their carriers (nuts in this case) are roasted. Roasted nuts aren’t just delicious, they are also digested a lot more easily. Roasting turns all the phytochemicals into a form that is easier to absorb and process. In other words, roasting makes the best nutrients in nuts bioavailable.

Food geeks will yell out in unison that we are ignoring the contribution of the ‘Maillard Reaction’ – a browning of foods that unlocks both flavours and nutrients. Frenchman Louis-Camille Maillard first observed this browning in cooked foods and wrote about it in 1913. As always, the French know their food!top_chef_masters_maillard_reaction

Years of subsequent research by other scientists confirmed that the browning was caused when the Amino Acids in foods react with sugars at temperatures around 154°C. This reaction unlocks hundreds of new compounds which bring amazing new flavors to the food. Depending on the amino acid makeup of foods, a distinctive set of flavor compounds are formed during the Maillard reaction. This browning is seen in a whole range of foods like fried nuts, onions, breads, roasted coffee, steaks and meats.

In nuts Maillard browning is a quite a delicate process. Go Nuts - Like a Cavemantoo high with roasting temperature, and you risk killing off the best nutrients and overdoing the nuts. At superbites, we slow roast nuts in small batches, and make sure they’re super-crunchy and nutritious! We cook up cashews, almonds and pistachios in plain, salted, sweetened and spiced varieties. Even cavemen knew they were making the right choice!

What’s Caramelization? Isn’t that the same as Maillard Browning?

Caramelization is quite different from Maillard Browning. True, at first sight, they seem similar to both our eyes and taste buds. But Maillard Browning is caused by the breakdown of amino acids in tandem with sugars.

Caramelization on the other hard, is merely the browning of sugars when they are broken down. When exposed to heat, sugars brown starting 160°C and then melt past 180°C. With every degree of temperature increase, the color of this syrup changes from a light yellow and gets closer to a deep brown. Now for the cool part; along with the color change, the taste evolves as the syrup turns into a rich, complex and aromatic form.

Now typically we associate caramelisation with that delicious gooey brown sauce that we pour over our triple scoop ice cream sundae. But lots of other interesting foods are a result of these browning phenomenon.Sesame-Roasted-Carrots

Here’s an interesting fact: Carrots are the cool kids on the block. They undergo the Maillard Reaction and then caramelize as the heat’s turned up further! (Waits for you to gather your mind which has just been blown away.) At first, the inherent amino acids in carrots break up on heating, explaining the Maillard reaction. Carrots have very high glucose, sucrose and fructose content. At higher temperatures, these sugars caramelize. Don’t be embarrassed to show off this bit of food wisdom the next time you’re at a dinner party!

Why are we at superbites talking about Maillard Browning and Caramelization? Because our Candied Cinnamon Almonds see both phenomena. Order your jar today to taste two wonders of science in one awesome snack!

Pick up a trail mix or our delicious candied cinnamon almonds or one of many kinds in our nut catalog and munch away!



Further Reading

Maillard Reaction – Wikipedia Entry

Frying, Boiling and the Maillard Reaction – Science Fare

Even our Naked Ancestors loved Nuts! – superbites blog

What Caramelization? – Science of Cooking