It is an immutable fact that nothing will get a person's mouth watering like the smell of bacon cooking. Even my mother, who has kept a mostly vegetarian diet for decades, admits to craving the stuff when someone is making breakfast. Which raises the question: What makes bacon smell so damn good?
The good people at the Reactions—a series created to explain everyday chemistry, run by the American Chemical Society—break it down for us in this simple two-minute video, with some help from CompoundChem.
The simplified version is this: When you throw bacon in the pan, it undergoes something called the Maillard Reaction, which is what causes foods to turn brown and gives it its flavor. In sizzling bacon, the Maillard reaction is causing sugars to react with amino acids; that reaction, combined with the meat's melting fats, produces the aroma compounds that make you salivate more than Pavlov's dog after a bell.
The aroma compounds are around two-thirds hydrocarbons (hydrogen and carbon molecules bonded together in chains) and aldehydes (carbon that bonds with oxygen and hydrogen), some of which produce a delicious smell. But the real powerhouse in bacon's incredible aroma is the nitrogen-containing compound pyridine. Combine it with hydrocarbons, aldehydes, and other odor compounds, the video says, “and they become the major contributor to bacon-y goodness.”
For more detail on what makes bacon smell so good, watch the video, and check out this post on CompoundChem.