Caramelized milk, baked chocolate, caramel and all the things that became golden-brown or covered with flavored crispy crust after heat treatment are the result of a whole bunch of processes for combining proteins and carbohydrates. This end-to-end process was researched by many scientists at the beginning of the last century, but a French doctor and chemist Louis Camille Maillard came closest to the truth. He detailed the reaction of sugaramine condensation which later became known as the Maillard reaction.
The ubiquity of this reaction is truly legendary. We face it almost everywhere, not even suspecting this phenomenon has a name: heat treatment of food, aroma of coffee and pastries, beer, kvass (traditional russian drink), various flavors and aromas, also humus formation in soil, peat, coal and medicinal mud. Tan too, can you imagine?
But since we are mostly concerned with a cacao topic, we decided to monitor the Maillard reaction on the example of roasting white chocolate. So, what we did. We loaded the white chocolate into the blender and turned on the heated chopping. After the chocolate passed into the liquid phase, we continued to mix it at high speed, but already at 130°C. After 12 minutes, the chocolate mass gain a golden-beige hue with some light caramel flavor. Meet melanoidin — the most interesting product of the Maillard reaction. It is responsible for color and its emergence is followed by ejection of various aromatic substances such as furfural, formaldehyde, diacetyl and others. Yep, sounds not so mouth-watering at all, but they smell caramel, fresh baked goods, barbecue and other stuff.
Melanoidin is a complex substance, and the process of its formation is under-explored. Still never-ending debates are going about the dangers or benefits of fried crust (most often they are reduced to the side of harm).
However, it has long been proven that melanoidin is not a carcinogen. In contrast, it has many useful features, especially antioxidant and antimicrobial, due to which melanoidin is actively used in food chemistry and pharmaceuticals as a growth biostimulator, in manufacturing of digestion improving drugs, skin treatment solutions and much more. Scientists have studied the melanoidins in coffee inside and out, proving even their benefits in reducing the risk of cancer.
But where all this talks about carcinogen came from? Well, carcinogens can indeed form as a result of the Maillard reaction, but this requires a temperature above 180°C to start the thermal decomposition of melanoidins. This is when your pancakes turned into coals while you were taking a morning shower or excitedly reading new material in our journal.
The same goes for roasting cacao beans. It runs in a temperature range of 110 to 150°C, and no one does it at 180°C or higher, in order to avoid cocoa beans turning into a pile of shit. So you shouldn’t worry about the presence of these harmful carcinogens in your chocolate.
Now go and enjoy the taste of roasted chocolate, catch the pleasant notes of caramel and drink some coffee. After all, what is not overcooked is good for ya’ health.