The Maillard Reaction and Creative Confectionery with Chef Michael Laiskonis

The Maillard Reaction and Creative Confectionery with Chef Michael Laiskonis


So a lot of cooking is simply about
controlling water – either we’re trying to remove it or we’re trying to retain
moisture. When we apply heat during the cooking process we often lose bright
flavors – take for example bottled pasteurized lemon juice versus fresh
squeezed lemon juice, the former isn’t going to have that same
bright flavor. Food reacts to heat in often delicious ways, giving us dishes
like caramels and grilled steaks. These are called Maillard reactions: it’s a
chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars. Heat transforms
proteins and sugars in browned foods, providing their characteristic color and
flavor. To avoid these reactions it’s helpful to cook in a vacuum cooker. Water
boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit at atmospheric pressure;
however, reducing the pressure allows us to significantly lower the boiling point.
The vacuum cooker uses a pump to remove the air from the cooking vessel thereby
reducing the pressure. This allows moisture to evaporate at lower temps controlling the effects of the Maillard reaction. ICE has a batch vacuum cooker
inside our chocolate lab. One cool application using the vacuum
cooker is the ability to make fruit-based caramels. So by avoiding these Maillard reactions we get a brighter color and much brighter
flavor. For example, with a raspberry caramel we’re getting the really bright flavor
of the raspberry without those cooked Maillard flavors. And the precision
temperature control allows us to navigate around those Maillard reactions or caramelization, which can be beneficial or something we want to avoid. If you can
get rid of moisture at a lower temperature you can better retain an
ingredient’s pure flavor. This is exciting for chefs because there’s really no
other way to control these reactions outside of the vacuum. Typically vacuum
cookers are huge industrial machines used for mass-market confectionery
products but now our partner Bottom Line Technologies has produced this machine
in a more user-friendly format. So it’s exciting for us here at ICE because we
have a lab-scale model that we can experiment with. Traditional uses for a
machine like this include a wide array of confectionery applications such as
hard candies, caramels and jellies. This technology has yet to really be
harnessed in small kitchens so we’re excited to be experimenting with it. And with the vacuum cooker in our lab it allows us the opportunity to share this technology
with other chefs and our students.

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