evolution and the maillard reaction

phatch

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New Scientist has an interesting article on the possible evolution of cooking.
https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23230980-600-what-was-the-first-cooked

They mention some of the archaelogocial evdence for cooking, some of which predates Homo sapiens.

Cooking can destroy some nutrition, but also makes other nutrients more readily available. Humans have a "short" digestive ract so cooking is essential to get enough out of the food in the time we do digest. There are arguments (no proof) that cooking allowed Homo sapiens to diverge and support our large and hungry brains.

The other apes also exhbit a preference for cooked food. But the final part of the article is about the Maillard reaction which presents some conundrums.


Browned off

One of the most important processes in cooking is the Maillard reaction, named after the French chemist who described it in 1912. A reaction between sugars and amino acids, it is what creates the brown compounds that make meat, toast, biscuits and fried foods so delicious. Humans generally prefer food that has undergone the Maillard reaction.

From an evolutionary perspective this is hard to explain. The Maillard reaction makes food – especially meat – less digestible, destroys nutrients and produces carcinogenic chemicals. It may be that the other benefits of cooking food massively outweigh these detriments, and so we have evolved to prefer browned food. But that doesn’t explain why it is also preferred by great apes, which can’t cook and won’t cook.
 
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 From an evolutionary perspective this is hard to explain.
From a taste perspective, it is easier to explain.

When I am trimming and portioning a whole strip loin, I can and do eat some of the raw trimmings. If presented with a 12 oz NY steak and the option of cooking it or consuming it raw, I am going for some Maillard every time. I am with the great apes on this one.

It has nothing to do with evolution but pleasure centers in my brain because I am not evolved enough to wisely choose that Maillard makes it
less digestible, destroys nutrients and produces carcinogenic chemicals 
over pleasure centers.

Over thinking it.
 

phatch

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The forces that would have played in the evolution of taste/cooking happened long after our divergence from the common ancestor. That's why it tastes good to us, but is curious in apes that didn't have that evolutionary path.

That we like it, we know. But why would our tastes evolve to like it if the dangers are greater than the satisfaction. When a rat chooses electric pleasure simulation over food, that's a dead end path.
 
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It's maybe an evolutionary spandrel, a "bug" that looks like a "feature".  There is no design behind evolution, just genetic drift that results in changes that can be beneficial, harmful or neutral.  A genetic mutation that results in a biological change that proves to be a good adaption to the current environment will be passed along, and changes that don't hinder can also be transmitted.  In apes perhaps the umami/maillard compounds are similar in taste or smell to other compound that is beneficial.  I'm just spitballing here, musing aloud.
 
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The forces that would have played in the evolution of taste/cooking happened long after our divergence from the common ancestor. That's why it tastes good to us, but is curious in apes that didn't have that evolutionary path.

That we like it, we know. But why would our tastes evolve to like it if the dangers are greater than the satisfaction. When a rat chooses electric pleasure simulation over food, that's a dead end path.
There are no great dangers in eating something less nutritious and less digestible. As for cancer, I'm not sure exactly how important a cause of death it was in prehistoric times as opposed to other causes of death. 

On the other hand, we know bacteria develops first on the surface of your food, and that may have been more of a thread to prehistoric populations. My guess is, grilling the food over a fire would achieve Maillard reaction AND kill the surface bacteria at the same time, so that could explain enjoying the Maillard reaction's taste from a evolutionary standpoint. 
 

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