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On Food and Cooking mentions that the Maillard reaction begins with a carbohydrate molecules and amino-acids. Dairy products are rich in carbohydrates and meats are rich in amino acids.

I wonder whether soaking meat in a dairy-based marinade (sour cream is a popular ingredient) amplifies that tasty browning during grilling.

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    Keep in mind that thick marinades (such as sour-cream based marinade) will more likely tone down the browning of the meat since it contains a fair amount of liquid and will therefor tend to steam rather than proper sizzles. In other words, unless there is a lot of oil / fat and that you use very little amount of sour cream, it might just do the opposite due to the nature of the elements that are working against one another here (thick cream - marinade (liquid) / meat => steaming more than sizzling) thus reducing Maillard's reaction. – maximegir Sep 24 at 21:48
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Two things that encourage Maillard reactions are more heat and higher PH. Modernist cuisine has instructions to caramelise food in water using a pressure cooker and baking soda. Baking soda can taste soapy. You can also look to non-flavored antacid from the chemist and something used in asian noodle making called alkaline salts or lye water.

  • Would you suggest marinating for some time or a quick dip just before cooking, i.e. soaking or surface coating? – Kentzo Sep 25 at 1:25
  • I would think quick would be fine. You're not going to get Maillard temperatures deep into the meat unless you put the whole thing in a pressure cooker, and there may be other PH related challenges inside the meat. – goboating Sep 25 at 18:16
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The answer to your question is "not really".

As you mentioned in the question, Maillard reaction begins with carbohydrates and aminoacids. Meat is rich in aminoacids, so you don't need to add it to your recipe, it is already there.

If you want to increase the Maillard reaction, you need to use a marinade that is rich in carbohydrates, the simpler the better. This is the reason why sugar, honey, syrup, apples, orange juice and similar ingredients are very popular in meat marinades.

Adding dairy to your marinade you increase the aminoacid level on something that is not the meat, so you add "competition" on substrate level on your Maillard reaction. It also adds more "incorporated" liquid to your meat, making it more likely to cook than sear.

The other answer mentions upping the pH with antiacid or lye water, I recommend doing this with caution, especially if we're talking about a meat that contains a lot of fat. Lye water is very basic and it is also used with lard or oil to produce soap. (Which is the degradation of the fat in fatty acid + glicerol and then the formation of a salt with the fatty acid and the base)

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