Wolke with column: Food 101

This is not exactly breaking news, but I just recently discovered that Robert L. Wolke, a retired chemistry professor and author of “What Einstein told his Cook” (volume one and two), writes a food/science column in the Washington Post entitled Food 101. Readers post questions which are then answered. One reader asks:

Why does a pot roast brown in a crockpot? It seems to be steaming in the pot, which one would think would create a blanched and pale cut of meat, but it comes out as browned as if we had seared it on the stovetop (not that I’m complaining).

Now, did I say the Maillard browning reaction involves parts of sugar molecules?

Yes, I did.

Does that mean there are sugars in the meat?

Absolutely not.

Then what the. . . .

Easy, now. Let me explain.
A carbonyl group is indeed a certain grouping of atoms found in sugar molecules. But it also is found in many other kinds of molecules, including the meat’s very own fats and proteins. The Maillard browning process can use the carbonyl groups that are inherent in the meat; it does not require sugars. And that’s fortunate, because there are no sugars in meat, beyond perhaps traces of glycogen, a source of glucose that fades away following the animal’s death.

Check out the other posts – there’s a lot to pick up for anyone interested in the food and science (especially if you like Wolke’s anti “tech speak” jargon – otherwise I would suggest reading McGee instead)!

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