Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Question

I wonder if any of you know if (the sugars in ) onions actually caramelize when they brown. I have never detected the aroma of caramel in what most people call "caramelized onions" and for a long time have assumed that folks mistake the effects of the maillard reaction and the concomitant increase in sweetness due to concentration of sugars via evaporation for caramelization. What do you think?

14 comments:

Scotty said...

Onions definitely contain measurable amounts of sugars. So in such a case how do you draw a distinction between caramelization and the Malliard? Could it be a combination. Is it a case where a difference which makes no difference is no difference.

I don't know.

Melissa said...

My husband and I have often wondered whether toasted marshmallows are caramelized only, or if there's any degree of Maillardization going on there.

paul said...

Bob,
from having cooked the french onion soup in the Bouchon cookbook several times, which calls for cooking the onions for 6 hours, that onions definitely develop a very sweet flavor. It makes for a fantastic and interesting soup if you get a chance.

Bob del Grosso said...

Melissa
To answer that question we have to determine if there are amino acids in marshmallows (Maillard reaction requires reducing sugars and amino acids). My gut says "yes'" My head is far behind.

Tags said...

From "On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee

p311-12

"The sugar and sugar-chain content of onions and garlic is largely responsible for their readiness to brown when fried, and contributes a caramel note to the cooked flavor."

It also mentions how the liquid the onions are cooked in, like pickle juice, water, butter or reactive unsaturated vegetable oils, affect the flavor of the various sulfur compounds in garlic and onions differently.

Tags said...

If the marshmallows are made of egg whites, the answer is yes.

If the marshmallows are made of corporate cost cutting flubber, it's anybody's guess.

Scotty said...

Tags,

Please tell me which edition of McGee you are using 311-312 of my stained, beloved copy is about the cooling and staling of bread!

Mike Pardus said...

You can't taste caramel in well browned onions?...go figure. I'd serve them on top of vanilla ice cream. JMO, but I've made a few gallons of onion soup in my day.

Tags said...

Scotty,

on the copyright page it says First Scribner revised edition 2004.

This was in "A Survey of Common Vegetables" under "The Flavor of Cooked Alliums."

Scotty said...

Tags, that's the new edition - mine is the 1984 one. I guess I now have a reason to upgrade. ;-)

paul said...

the new version is something like 50% larger than the old so it was a substantial rewrite. I went to a reading when the new version came out, got my original signed and bought new copy-- he is a really nice guy!

Ed Bruske said...

Maillard reaction involves a change in proteins. Onions not being high in protein, my vote would go for caramelization. But you could have both going on.

Melissa said...

Well, the marshmallows I make most definitely have amino acids in them. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and I use gelatin when I make marshmallows. (Egg whites would of course also add protein, but I prefer the taste of no-egg-white marshmallows.) Most commercial marshmallows use gelatin, too. But all bets are off if you're talking about vegetarian marshmallows with agar.

Josh said...

I've always found Martin's post about this topic most instructive:

http://blog.khymos.org/2008/09/26/speeding-up-the-maillard-reaction/