There’s nothing quite like browned butter. Its rich, nutty flavor is welcome in everything from chocolate chip cookies and pie to spaghetti and even chicken wings. I’m thoroughly convinced that browned butter makes everything better.
As much as I delight in browned butter–laced dishes, it took me working at ATK to actually discover what it is that makes browned butter taste so much better than regular melted butter. It turns out, like all things at ATK, it comes back to science.
In many foods, heat triggers a chemical reaction between amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and sugars that creates lots of new—and very delicious—flavor compounds. It also creates other compounds that give browned foods their color. This is called the Maillard, or browning, reaction.
How does the Maillard reaction work when browning butter? As butter heats up, the water in the butter evaporates and sugars and amino acids in the butter react to create new flavor compounds and turn from white to brown. Those new flavor compounds are what make browned butter nutty, toasty, and inimitable.
Got curious kids? Take this browned butter exploration a step further by having them organize a blindfolded taste test of browned butter and regular melted butter—and then turn it all into a lemony, herby browned butter sauce to drizzle on steak, roasted vegetables, and more. You can find that taste test—and dozens more delicious, fun-filled experiments and recipes—in America’s Test Kitchen Kids’ latest cookbook for young chefs, The Complete Cookbook for Young Scientists.