Bacon smells and tastes delicious to most people, and now researchers have discovered the secret behind the attraction. The smell of bacon is not due to one chemical alone, but a blend of approximately 150 chemicals. 

Sugar, reacting with amino acids in the bacon, create Maillard reactions, which browns meats and other foods. This process is not a single type of reaction, but a wide range of reactions, similar to caramelization. These Maillard reactions are the same processes that help make fresh-baked bread smell so good. 

Around two-thirds of the compounds that  comprise the smell of bacon are hydrocarbons (containing hydrogen and carbon atoms) and aldehydes. The second class of chemicals are made up of the same two components as hydrocarbons, but aldehydes also join with oxygen atoms. Many chemicals in these two groups add highly-desirable smells and tastes, that each contribute to the unique qualities of the popular breakfast meat.  

The American Chemical Society (ACS) partnered with Compound Interest, a Web site explaining the chemical compositions of everyday items. 

Bacon also has "some nitrogen-containing compounds thrown in for good measure," ACS officials wrote in the video description. 

Nitrogen-based chemicals adding to bacon's appeal include classes of molecules called pyridines and pyrazines. Pyradines adds a smell of meat to bacon as the food cooks, as do another class of chemicals present in bacon called furans. 

Smell is a vital factor affecting tastes in many foods. The finest beer and wine producers work diligently to craft products with an appealing aroma. 

The ACS and Compound Interest created a video on the chemistry of bacon smell and taste, which is available on YouTube. 

"So, what compounds give bacon its aroma? The researchers... found that hydrocarbons, alcohols, ketones and aldehydes were present in large quantities in both the bacon and pork aromas. They also found some compounds present exclusively in bacon, and suggest that these play a major role in its scent," Compound Interest wrote in a blog post announcing the study. 

According to the National Pork Board, sales of bacon in the United States rose over 20 percent between the years 2000 and 2005. The meat is being consumed more often on salads, on pizzas and on sandwiches, leading to the increased sales. 
Average Americans eat bacon 18 times a year, and half of all households keep a constant supply in refrigerators. When eggs are served in the United States, bacon accompanies the meal 26 percent of the time. Dishes including bacon are paired with eggs 71 out of 100 times. 

"It just may be nitrogen-containing compounds that make bacon smell like nothing else in the universe," creators of the video state in the production.

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.