Why Does Bacon Smell So Good?

Why is it that the smell of sizzling bacon has the power to wake one from a dead sleep? I suppose an obnoxiously bad smell, like skunk, might have the same power, but I’ve never tried it, and a skunk awakening is not on my bucket list. It seems there’s a never-ending supply of interesting facts about food… You might think the snap, crackle and pop sounds of frying bacon might have something to do with it, but while I can’t speak for you, L’eau de Sizzling Bacon maintains its power even if you’re too far away to hear it. By the way, I think Kellogg stole the “Snap, Crackle, Pop” thing from bacon to help sell their Rice Krispies. That didn’t come on the scene until 1929 , and we all know folks were leaping out of bed in a dash for first in the bacon line long before that. But I digress. What is it about bacon smell that can bring back the dead?

Bacon Smell: Volume Rules

The process of cooking bacon releases about 150 unique compounds that meld together, creating the bouquet we all know and love.

The compounds have all sorts of scientific and, for describing the delicious smell, useless names. Hydrocarbons, aldehydes, pyridines, pyrazines, ketones, alcohols—what’s the difference? A lot, actually. These by-products of cooking meat, especially bacon, arguably have supernatural olfactory powers.

Hydrocarbons are simple things made of various combinations of hydrogen and carbon atoms. Different combinations produce different smells. Aldehydes are similar; they are constructed of hydrogen and carbon atoms but with the addition of oxygen. Pyridines and pyrazines contain nitrogen, and that’s where a large part of the answer lies.

The Maillard Reaction

The smell of sizzling bacon is so important that the science community uses a special term to describe the process. OK, so the Maillard Reaction isn’t unique to bacon but cooking food in general. Think browning various things. Meats are usually the easiest example.

The reaction is between the sugars and amino acids, or carbohydrates and proteins, if you will. Bacon has a healthy supply of sugars and fats, so its Maillard Reaction is particularly aggressive—in a polite, loving and delicious-smelling way. The by-products of the Maillard Reaction are… all those hydrocarbons, aldehydes, pyridines, pyrazines, ketones, and alcohols.

Why Bacon?

The scent of cooking meat appeals to many regardless, but bacon has a little extra juice compared to other foods.

The salting and brining processes used in lots of bacon varieties help produce a heavier concentration of those nitrogen-containing compounds, which helps explain the more powerful fragrance of bacon over, say, a hamburger.

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