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ChemMatters Infographic: Why Bacon Smells So Good

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Bacon and eggs. A bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. Bacon crumbles sprinkled over roasted Brussels sprouts. Even a doughnut topped with maple icing and, you may have guessed, bacon. Hungry yet? These are all food items that have one time or another been on my menu. The common thread, of course, is the crispy, tasty addition of bacon. How does bacon go from its initial properties and appearance to the flavorful, delicious cooked product that many of us love to eat?

Lets start with the lovely browning you get as the bacon cooks. That’s a result of the chemistry of the Maillard reaction. Its not exclusive to bacon. For example, it also takes place when you toast a slice of bread or when coffee beans are roasted. Its contribution to the color of browning isn’t the only thing we can appreciate. The distinctive smell of bacon is at least partly due to the Maillard reaction as well. At higher cooking temperatures, amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, and carbohydrates, or sugars, react to produce the browning as well as compounds that contribute to the aroma of bacon.

The scent doesn’t stop there. As the infographic points out, there are over a hundred different compounds that contribute to the smell of bacon. Some are produced by the Maillard reaction, but others are produced when bacon fat melts and degrades. Then, some of these compounds can go through another round of transformation, combining to produce additional compounds. A study states that Compounds such as pyrazines, pyridines and furans are thought to be responsible for these meaty aromas. Structures for these three compound types are shown below.

In the end, what got us that crispy pile of bacon-y goodness is not one simple step, but rather a combination of many steps and aroma compounds that contribute to the flavor. No matter the path, many will agree, we can just call it delicious.

A Winning Graphic

This graphic is a winning entry in the 2015-2016 ACS ChemClubs/ChemMatters Infographic Contest. Students, teachers, and other chem enthusiasts were challenged to take a chemistry topic and turn it into an original informational graphic. Entries were judged on originality, and the ability to convey accurate science details clearly and creatively. After the top infographics were selected in spring 2016, the four winning entries were published in ChemMatters during 2016-2017. This infographic appeared in the December 2016 issue and was conceived by Morgan Fritze and Annette Mikolajczyk from Maine East High School in Park Ridge, Illinois.

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