This popular breakfast food has most of us flocking to the kitchen as soon as the sizzle starts in the frying pan. From wash bodies to alarm clocks, it seems we cannot get enough of bacon, but what is so enticing about its meaty aroma? The American Chemical Society (ACS), in conjunction with the chemistry blog Compound Interest, have pinpointed the answer: It’s all in the 150 volatile organic compounds.
“Turns out there are about 150 volatile organic compounds that contribute to bacon’s meaty aroma, many of them hydrocarbons and aldehydes, with some nitrogen-containing compounds thrown in for good measure,” said the ACS in a video. As the bacon heats up, the sugars and amino acids create the Maillard reaction, and the melting of the fats produces its characteristic tantalizing smell.
However, why does bacon smell better than pork? A 2004 study by Spanish researchers, identified the aroma compounds in the “headspace volatiles” of fried bacon and fried pork lion. “'The concentrations of volatiles in bacon were much lower than those in pork loin, except for nitrogen compounds,” they wrote. Therefore, the differences in smell were caused by the presence of nitrate in bacon. The aromas commonly found in fried bacon were not present in the pork loin samples.
The meaty aromas found in bacon, but not pork, are due to the thermal breakdown of fat molecules, which produce compounds such as pyrazines, pyridines and furans, according to the ACS video. Compounds present exclusively in bacon include: 2,5-dimethylpyrazine, 2,3-dimethylpyrazine, 2-ethyl-5-methylpyrazine, and 2-ethyl-3,5-dimethylpyrazine. They are considered to play a “major role in its scent,” Compound Interest explains.
While ACS and Compound Interest have put their nose into our favorite breakfast food, we can all do the same to stop and smell the bacon.