As a flavor chemist, the things I write are usually highly technical. I’m excited to write this piece because it’s not only an opportunity to talk about my work to people outside the scientific community but also because I get to talk about one of my favorite foods in the world: meat. I’m self-proclaimed as America’s number one carnivore (technically I’m an omnivore, but that’s a technicality). Some people crave cheese or chocolate: I crave steak.
I was a 4-H’er as a kid; born on a ranch in Southern California where we raised, butchered and cooked our own animals. So early on I learned the standard methods for cooking different meat. We learned to use the entire animal, which is something we also do at Brand Aromatics: use all kinds of different parts when developing different flavors. I have the joy of developing flavors made with USDA products. My favorites are the reaction flavors: the magical compounds created when meat meets heat.
During the heating process, chemical reactions occur between reducing sugars and amino acids or proteins. This process conforms to what is commonly understood in chemistry to be the "Maillard Reaction." It’s what gives food its distinctive brown color and savory flavor when cooked – the sear on your steak, the char on your burgers. Anyone cooking at home creates these reaction flavors when they grill, sauté, roast or sear any type of meat.
At McCormick, we distill that magic into a well-rounded, savory concentrated, convenient solution for product developers. We always begin with USDA meat, and then consider the multiple variables that influence the finished flavor of the Maillard reaction: the ingredients used, the temperature they’re exposed to, and the time at which they’re held there.
We analyze the unique protein structures found in each cut of meat: the chemical composition of tissue from different parts of the animal, and the individual amino acids which react with natural sugars and heat to produce a unique flavor. By isolating particular aminos and controlling for time and temperature, we can create an enormous spectrum of possible flavors. Regardless of its composition, a steak cooked low and slow in an oven will never taste anything like one seared on a hot grill.
Understanding elements used to produce different flavor combinations found in roasted, seared, charred or sautéed meat.
Understanding these variables and reactions, I can use chemistry in the lab to replicate the same flavors a chef creates in the kitchen. My knowledge comes from experience. Trial and error have taught me how types and ratios of amino acids and reducing sugars react to impart a specific characteristic. I replicate reaction flavors purely on organoleptic testing: I taste the control product and then start designing a formula that I feel will develop the same characteristics. Bringing together this knowledge with the tremendous range of resources we have in our in-house kitchens, I can collaborate with customers to pinpoint a very precise flavor gold standard, and then translate that into a commercializable flavor solution.
The objective is to focus on delivering solutions that are authentic and showcase the natural flavors that emerge from simply combining meat and heat. Instead of a customer needing to work through the myriad of variables and time to achieve a signature taste, we use our wealth of culinary chemistry knowledge to “cut to the chase” if you will, allowing our clients to concentrate on streamlining their production.
For your next, ‘meat meets heat’ profile, reach out to your McCormick account Manager or contact us here today to learn more about working with our team.