The Maillard reaction (//my-YAR; French pronunciation: [majaʁ]) is a form of nonenzymatic browning. It results from a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, usually requiring heat.
Vitally important in the preparation or presentation of many types of food, it is named after chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, who first described it in 1912 while attempting to reproduce biological protein synthesis.(p79)
The reactive carbonyl group of the sugar reacts with the nucleophilic amino group of the amino acid, and forms a complex mixture of poorly-characterized molecules responsible for a range of odors and flavors. This process is accelerated in an alkaline environment, as the amino groups are deprotonated and, hence, have an increased nucleophilicity. The type of the amino acid determines the resulting flavor. This reaction is the basis of the flavoring industry. At high temperatures, acrylamide can be formed.
In the process, hundreds of different flavor compounds are created. These compounds, in turn, break down to form yet more new flavor compounds, and so on. Each type of food has a very distinctive set of flavor compounds that are formed during the Maillard reaction. It is these same compounds flavor scientists have used over the years to make reaction flavors.