Have you ever noticed that almost all baking recipes have you bake at 350 degrees? Chefs and bakers can probably agree that that’s just common sense at this point. But why is it 350? Why not 250? Or 450? What makes 350 so special? Well, we dug around and finally found the answer—and it might surprise you.
According to slate.com, at one point in time, electric ovens didn’t have numbered temperature gauges. When recipes were written in the 19th century, there were only three temperatures: “slow,” “moderate,” and “hot.” By the 1920s, these terms changed to: “low,” “medium,” and “high.” Finally, around the end of World War II, it was becoming more common to see actual numbers on oven dials to gauge the temperature. Nowadays, ovens automatically preheat to 350 degrees with the touch of a button.
So, what’s the deal with 350 degrees? As it turns out, that’s the temperature where a lot of chemical reactions, including the Maillard reaction, occur. The Maillard reaction is the process of browning, like if you’re baking cookies or roasting marshmallows and they start to turn brown. According to seriouseats.com, “The Maillard reaction is many small, simultaneous chemical reactions that occur when proteins and sugars in and on your food are transformed by heat, producing new flavors, aromas, and colors.” (Did you know you’ve been using your oven drawer wrong the whole time?)
A more obvious reason for baking at 350 degrees is because it’s considered a “moderate” temperature. At this degree, it’s hot enough to bake quickly, but not hot enough to burn your delicious baked goods (as long as you don’t leave them in there for too long). While 350 degrees may seem like the perfect baking temperature for everything, this isn’t entirely true. As you could guess, different foods required different amounts of heat, like these whole-wheat honey pumpkin rolls (400 degrees) and certain steaks (500 degrees). Regardless, the key is that you always want to follow the directions. That way, you don’t end up with these common cooking disasters.