What is the Maillard reaction?

My local grocery store just came up with some Vidalia onions. They are the best onions, and I’m cooking with them every day so I can eat them all before any go bad.

When you cook onions to the point where they brown, they become sweet tasting and great smelling. That is the Maillard reaction. Cooking meat enough gets you a similar effect. Toast. All kinds of foods.

“All sorts of things happen in this reaction. But eventually, you get to flavor town.”

Here’s a short video that gives you the science of the Maillard reaction:

How do you pronounce it? Mai yard. More or less. Skip past the “ll” part.


  1. #1 John Russell (@johnrussell40)
    Devon, UK
    June 21, 2016

    As bananas ‘mature’, just before they become mushy, the skins start to become speckled brown and the flesh starts to soften. At this same moment the sweetness is at its maximum and the flavour becomes incredibly strong. It’s my ideal moment to eat them, though I know some people never get to experience this blissful moment, as their bananas have long been thrown in the bin.

  2. #2 BBD
    June 21, 2016

    Don’t think you can get Vidalias here in the UK, which is a shame. That said, if you want a superior flavour, try shallots, not onions. At least chemistry is universal 🙂 The Maillard reaction tastes just as good wherever you are, although sadly remains just as difficult to understand wherever you are.

  3. #3 Jazzlet
    June 21, 2016

    I think the nearest we get in the UK are ‘Spanish’ onions. Shallot are wonderful.

  4. #4 Brainstorms
    June 21, 2016

    Sadly, that yummy reaction that makes the stuff we love to smell and really love to taste also makes boogeyman organic molecules, advanced glycation endproducts, that attack nucleic acids, proteins, and lipids that can lead to diabetic complications, pulmonary fibrosis, and neurodegeneration. Yummy.

    Or, “This is why we can’t have nice things,” culinarily speaking.

    Won’t stop me, though…

  5. #5 BBD
    June 21, 2016

    Won’t stop me, though…

    Nor me. Time for a spot of denial… 😉

  6. #6 The Phytophactot
    Midwest USA
    June 22, 2016

    You can buy Vidalia onion seeds but don’t bother. The soil around Vidalia Georgia has very few sulfur minerals so the onions fail to produce the sulfides that make you eyes water. Since its the soil not genes that make these onions special you only get the real thing from GA.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    June 22, 2016

    From a particular part of Georgia, IIRC.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    June 22, 2016

    From Wiki: Georgia’s state legislature passed the “Vidalia Onion Act of 1986” which authorized a trademark for “Vidalia Onions” and limits the production area to the following counties of Georgia that have or any subset as defined by the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture. The current definition includes:

    The following thirteen counties: Emanuel, Candler, Treutlen, Bulloch, Wheeler, Montgomery, Evans, Tattnall, Toombs, Telfair, Jeff Davis, Appling, and Bacon.
    Portions of the following seven counties: Jenkins, Screven, Laurens, Dodge, Pierce, Wayne, and Long.
    Since Georgia statutes have no legally-binding effect outside Georgia, producers and handlers meeting the standards defined by Georgia law requested, and the United States Department of Agriculture promulgated, a Federal Marketing Order which defined the production area as a matter of United States federal law.[1]

  9. #9 ppnl
    June 23, 2016

    I prefer to cook with ordinary onions. I eat vidalia onions raw. I have made onion only sandwiches with them.

    Georgia soil may be good for onions but at least here it is so fine grained that it compacts very easily. That and the clay content really makes trouble for my garden. I have tried adding organic content but with limited success. Will try sand next year.

    The best application of the Maillard process is fajitas.

  10. #10 BBD
    June 23, 2016


    From a particular part of Georgia, IIRC.

    That’s my understanding (per the wiki you quote). Terroire over cépage 🙂