Chemists unveil the magic of bacon on a molecular level
Food scientists are finally getting to the bottom of what makes bacon so uniquely appealing to our taste buds.
There’s no one single factor that makes bacon taste the way it does — which is bad news for those who, for reasons of profit, convenience or ethics, want to synthesize and recreate the bacon's appeal without using actual pigs.
But scientists have figured out a few of the food's most important flavor components: the fat in marbled American bacon (as opposed to the leaner Canadian or Irish varieties), breaks down when cooked, yielding flavorful compounds such as aldehydes, furans, and ketones. Furans are responsible for the sweet and nutty caramel end of our bacon, and ketones bring out a buttery taste. Aldehydes create a vegetal, grassy taste and may be familiar to perfume aficionados as the characteristic heart note that gives Chanel No. 5 its classic lemon-floral scent. Grass, caramel, and butter aren’t things one would necessarily associate with bacon, but it turns out they're the basic building blocks of its taste.
Salt and the smoke are also huge players in the construction of bacon's flavor. Salt halts the breakdown of fatty acids (so that we can enjoy their spectrum of flavors), and smoke infuses each strip with competing tastes: acrid, bitter phenol, and sweet maple lactone.
Finally, the Maillard Reaction, the high-heat blending of sugars and amino acids, occurs in bacon. This reaction is single-handedly responsible for the mouthwatering flavor of a steak charred on a grill and the taste of toasted cocoa beans -- all things humans tend to love.