The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Why Is The Smell Of Bacon Cooking So Irresistible? Science Has The Answer

The Earthly Explanation of a Heavenly Scent

Okay. You all know how I feel about my bacon. You probably feel the same way or you wouldn't be reading this.

For as long as I can remember, the lure of cooking bacon has drawn me to the kitchen. In fact, bacon is the first thing I ever learned to cook back at the tender age of seven. More than fifty years later, I'm still cooking it and it still calls to me as it sizzles in a pan or on a flattop. I've often referred to the salty, porky taste of bacon as “ambrosia” – the ancient “food of the gods.” Whether you're talking about high-end artisan bacon like the stuff I get from Benton's in Madisonville, Tennessee or supermarket fare from Oscar Meyer, bacon really does make everything better.

But, taste aside, what is it about the smell of bacon being cooked that is so irresistible? You can be in the next room, the basement, the garage, or out plowing the back forty and as soon as you get a whiff of bacon cooking in the kitchen, you start to drool and salivate and your brain goes into a gear completely dedicated to obtaining and consuming bacon. The shifter on your car's transmission reads P R N D. In the case of your brain, that translates to Pork Right Now Dammit.

I like to think of it as a sensory gift from Mother Nature, carried on an ethereal zephyr to the very depths of my soul. But leave it to cold, hard science to come up with a chemical explanation. It all has to to with the Maillard reaction and an estimated one hundred-fifty organic aroma compounds. In case you missed out on Food Science 101, the Maillard reaction is what makes certain foods turn a nice golden, crusty brown. This process only works with amino acid compounds,such as those found in meat, heated to certain temperatures. As I keep screaming at idiot TV chefs, “caramelization,” which involves the pyrolysis of sugars, is a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT process. Are you listening, Michael Symon? But I digress.

Tell you what, rather than reading all the mind-numbing terminology about hydrocarbons and aldehydes and pyradine and pyrazine, why don't you just click on the link below and watch a little two-minute video produced on You Tube by The American Chemical Society and Compound Interest? Just ignore the way the girl in the voiceover pronounces "Maillard." It's supposed to be "my-YAR" rather than "MEE-yard," but she means well.

Way back in 1697, William Congreve famously wrote, “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.” Yeah, maybe. But ol' Bill never took into account the smell of cooking bacon, or he would have written something entirely more appropriate. So do your part to promote world peace and harmony. Throw open all your windows and doors and cook some bacon.

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