The Clark Jewel Gas Range, pictured in 1919. (New York Tribune)
Microwaves count down by the second. Ovens automatically preheat to 350 degrees with the press of a button.
The magic of cooking at 350 degrees isn’t magic at all, but chemistry. It is, for example, the level associated with the Maillard Reaction, the chemical process that gives so many foods a complex flavor profile—and an appealing golden-brown hue—when sugar and protein are heated together just so.
“Without Maillard chemistry we would not have a dark bread crust or golden brown turkey,” wrote the authors of a Royal Society of Chemistry book about the reaction, “our cakes and pastries would be pale and anemic, and we would lose the distinctive color of French onion soup.” The Maillard Reaction—which actually entails a series of reactions—isn’t all toasty goodness, however. It’s also responsible for making apples turn brown, which many people find unappetizing “despite negligible effect on flavor,” the authors write.