Typically colour means taste, but what about brown?

Pork roast
A delicious pork roast with roast potatoes made for Sunday lunch by the Gorgeous Gourmet (thegorgeousgourmet.co.za)

The brown I’m referring to is the golden brown on toast, the delicious crispy brown chicken skin that crackles when you bit into it, and the glowing beautiful brown on those Sunday roast potatoes. That is the brown to which I refer. It’s a good brown that most people never think about much, or question why it’s good or how to get more of it.

So what is this browning you are going on about? It’s formed from Maillard reactions. Put simply it’s what happens when an amino acid and a sugar react in the presence of heat and are dehydrated. Depending on what amino acid and sugar react will give you different flavours and aromas.

In a way, the browning in the last paragraph is similar to caramelization except that caramelization has to do with sugars reacting with heat and dehydration. All you have to do to make it a maillard reaction is then add an amino acid to it and presto!

Maillard reaction
This IS what you want to find at the bottom of your pan. Just add some water/stock/wine and get that yummy stuff off and into your food.

So there are 4 ways to increase the yummy brownness:

  1. Dehydration – make sure your meat is dry when you cook it, that way the MR can start sooner and more evenly.
  2. Increase the pH – you can sprinkle some Bicarbonate of Soda over those onions to caramelize them quicker
  3. Heat- this goes without saying but the more heat the more reactions the more brown. The problem is the same as gambling- you need to know when to stop or you’ll be left hungry.
  4. Sugar- by adding some sugar to the mix you can help the process, especially if sugar is the limiting factor in the ingredient you are trying to brown. Heston Blumenthal often uses skim milk powder to help brown his meats because it contains amino acids, sugars and is dehydrated.