A Hamburger Today

Thanks to Louis-Camille Maillard, we know why hamburgers are a compelling dish. Back in the 1910s, the French chemist and physician started researching amino acids and the way they react to sugars. The result of his research—called the Maillard reaction—was the discovery that when amino acids and sugars are made to react together (usually by heat) they release aromas and flavors as well as produce a browning effect similar to the non-enzymatic one that occurs during caramelization. This reaction does not so much intensify the taste of food as much as create whole new flavors and aromas. The reaction has been indispensable in our understanding of taste—indeed, it forms the foundation for the entire flavoring industry.