MadSci Network: Biochemistry

Re: What chemical change takes place to make most onions taste sweet when cooked?

Date: Thu Apr 6 10:23:11 2000
Posted By: Carl Custer, Staff, Office Public Health & Science, Scientific Research Oversight Staff , USDA FSIS OPHS
Area of science: Biochemistry
ID: 951754503.Bc

Two factors contribute to the sweet taste of cooked onions.
The first and most important factor is that the heat of cooking 
volatilizes the sulfur-containing compounds that give raw onions their 
sharp taste. Evaporating these compounds unmasks the naturally sweet 
flavor of onions.  For instance you may recall the "trick" of blindfolding 
a person, stuffing up their nose and having them eat an onion.
Often they believe they're eating an apple. 

The second factor is caramelization: Browning the onion in the skillet 
causes "caramelization". Most people interpret the caramelized sugars as 
additional sweetness.  For instance, compare the sweetness of an (uniced) 
cake crust, with the non browned interior. 

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