Heat and Meat Flavor

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Raw meat is tasty rather than flavorful. It provides salts, savory amino acids, and a slight acidity to the tongue, but offers little in the way of aroma. Cooking intensifies the taste of meat and creates its aroma. Simple physical damage to the muscle fibers causes them to release more of their fluids and therefore more stimulating substances for the tongue. This fluid release is at its maximum when meat is only lightly cooked, or done “rare.” As the temperature increases and the meat dries out, physical change gives way to chemical change, and to the development of aroma as cell molecules break apart and recombine with each other to form new molecules that not only smell meaty, but also fruity and floral, nutty and grassy (esters, ketones, aldehydes).