Scientists discover the secret behind bacon’s tantalizing aroma

Jonathan Marker | Science Recorder | May 27, 2014

Scientists discover the secret behind bacon’s tantalizing aroma

The thermal breakdown of fats in the bacon adds the explosive grease to the pan, and helps drive the smoky aroma that draws us in.

Ah, bacon: That crunchy, salty, delicious treat whose tantalizing smell invades our nostrils and beckons us to the frying pan with curling wisps of smoky goodness.  Teetering on the razor’s edge of now-you’ve-gone-too-far, bacon enthusiasts have created such crazy concoctions as bacon-scented cologne, bacon-flavored floss, bacon-scented candles and even bacon mayonnaise.  With its catchy title “BACONLUBE: Keep It Sizzlin’,” the personal lubricant leaves nothing to the imagination as to just how far we as a society have taken the love affair with bacon.

But what makes bacon so desirable?

It’s the smell.  According to the American Chemical Society in a Reactions video posted to YouTube, in bacon, about 150 compounds combine to give it that distinctive, meaty aroma.  Thanks to the Maillard reaction, which occurs when sugars and amino acids are heated, we smell the distinctive browning aromas as well.  The thermal breakdown of fats in the bacon adds the explosive grease to the pan, and helps drive the smoky aroma that draws us in.  Added to the nitrogen-related compounds introduced during the curing process, these compounds combine to produce an aroma that smells like nothing else in the world.

However, the importance of the Maillard reaction does not stop there.  According to The Accidental Scientist, the molecules of the amino acids and sugars combine to form new aromas and flavors. The Maillard reaction gives toast its distinctive flavor, beer its distinctive color, and self-tanning products the power to turn skin brown.  It is responsible for scores of flavor compounds, and is also used to make artificial maple syrup.

Happy crunching!


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