Sponsored By
Donna Berry

January 20, 2010

14 Min Read
Soaks and Sauces

Adding a sumptuous sauce or a zesty marinade have been popular ways to turn ordinary dishes into gourmet masterpieces for a number of years. And 2009 seemed like the year of brines for Thanksgiving turkeys. Enhancements with marinades, sauce and brines not only lend a culinary touch, but have functional benefits, as well.

Osmotically balanced

Brine is a salt-and-water solution in which fish, meat or poultry soaks in prior to cooking. The main purpose of brining is to add enough salt and water to the protein so that during cooking it remains moist, even if slightly overcooked or held before serving. In other words, brining provides a cushion for cooking times and temperatures.

Center-of-the-plate proteins inherently contain salt. By immersing them into a highly concentrated salt solution, the protein absorbs the liquid, a process called osmosis. Further, flavoring added to the brine is carried into the protein with the salt-water mixture.

Salt denatures protein molecules, causing them to unwind and form a matrix to trap water. Protein molecules also break down in brines, allowing salt and flavoring agents to readily permeate the flesh.

Most brines are applied by the food preparerthe home cook, restaurant chef or prepared-food manufacturer. Industrial marinades, on the other hand, can be applied by the packer to the raw protein, either for the sole purpose of improving yield through increased water retention, or adding some flavor, too. Commercial marinades can be offered as a flavoring perk by a retail butcher. Home cooks and chefs also often purchase commercial liquid or dry marinades and personally apply them for a homemade touch.

Industrial marinades

It is important to distinguish between the two types of marinades. Packers apply marinades often referred to as enhancement solutions. They are very different from those applied by home cooks and chefs.

For a meat packer, marinades not only help to deliver flavor to the consumer, but also function, in most cases, to increase the product yield through use of starch-based ingredients and phosphates as moisture-retention aids, says Shana Brewer, senior marketing analyst, savory products, National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, NJ. Its more cost-effective to boost the weight of the protein with a water-based system compared to the cost of the protein, she notes.

Marinades used by a meat packer can be either injected or tumbled, continues Brewer. Marinades used for meat products going into foodservice channels also have a large effect on the final texture during cooking. You can adjust the firmness or juiciness of a meat product to the desired texture through the use of various starch-based texturizers.

Yan Huang, senior scientist, Innophos, Cranbury, NJ, says that marinades can increase the shelf life of the fresh product. Customers will also see less juice loss after cooking.

Marinade composition depends upon the application system. In the case of injection, the marinade needs to be water-soluble and without any particulates that might clog the injection needles, says Sally Gaffney, R&D manager, meat systems and flavors, Kerry Ingredients & Flavours, Americas, Beloit, WI. Dry marinades that are vacuum-tumbled are also added to water in order to penetrate the meat, but may contain particulates to give more visual appeal to the surface of the meat.

Industrial marinades can mask inconsistencies in the raw product. Inherent biological differences in meat, as related to breed, diet, age and physiological growth or maturity considerations, make marinades an equalizer that provides greater consistency, says Robert Johnson, value optimization manager, Red Arrow Products Co., Manitowoc, WI. It could be misconstrued that meat packers are merchandising water for a premium. However, they are regulated in the amounts of gain permitted in the USDA regulations for certain species.

Susan Parker, associate principal scientist, Kraft Food Ingredients, Memphis, adds that lesser cuts can be marinated to improve eating quality and flavor, while garnering a better price than the unmarinated cut.

Functional phosphates

Industrial marinades are composed of numerous functional ingredients that interact with protein molecules. For example, alkaline phosphates improve the water-binding capacity of the protein and have some antioxidant properties.

Formulators can choose from many different phosphates, each with its own functional properties, says Huang. In general, phosphates in a marinade can increase the water-holding capacity of the protein by increasing the protein pH away from its isoelectric point. The rise in pH increases the net negative charge, which results in electrostatic repulsion between the muscle fibers. This increases the ability to absorb and retain moisture.

Phosphates also improve product shelf life by inhibiting lipid oxidation, notes Richard Bosch, technical service fellow, ICL Performance Products, St. Louis. Muscle foods can form off flavors and odors from lipid or fat oxidation, he says. This reaction is catalyzed by iron and copper metal ions, which occur naturally in muscle tissues. Polyphosphates extend shelf life by binding these metal ions so they are unavailable to participate in the rancidity reaction.

According to Robert Maddock, associate professor, Department of Animal Sciences, North Dakota State University, Fargo: From a taste and label standpoint, it is desirable to formulate salt and phosphate levels to as low as possible to adequately bind water in the fresh meat. A common industrial beef marinade formulated for a 10% injection level will often have 2% to 3% salt, and 1% to 3% phosphate, resulting in 0.2% salt and 0.1% phosphate in the beef. Less phosphate produces more purge, but using 0.5%, the USDA limit, can cause off flavors.

Typical injection levels for fresh beef range from 7% to 15%, with little difference in consumer ratings of tenderness and juiciness between the high and low levels, adds Maddock. Higher injection levels result in greater purge loss during shipping and display.

Other ingredients, such as whey protein, also assist with water binding. Functional whey protein can be used by meat processors as a natural way to increase yield, provide a tender bite and enhance the flavor of a brine or marinade system, says Jeff Banes, applied technology manager, Grande Custom Ingredients Group, Lomira, WI.

Retail considerations

As opposed to industrial marinades, those for chefs or home cooks are intended to add flavor and tenderize in a short amount of time.

Marinate literally means to soak, says Andrew Hunter, foodservice and industrial chef, Kikkoman Sales USA, Inc., San Francisco. The purpose of a marinade is to lend and enhance natural, subtle, delicious flavor and aroma notes, and to enhance the moisture of the cooked meats.

Marinades must have an intense flavorintense enough to penetrate meat, fish and poultry, and to enhance the overall flavor and aroma profile, Hunter continues. To accomplish this, use aged and dry ingredients with stable flavor and aroma profiles.

Lean cuts of meat are favored by todays health-conscious consumers, says Dan Putnam, technical manager, Grain Processing Corporation, Muscatine, IA, which are often so lean that they are not juicy and are difficult to swallow. Marinades can provide a lubricity that mimics fat.

Most commercial marinades contain salt and provide some of the same functions as brine. However, according to Hunter, naturally brewed soy sauce is more effective than salt in marinades because it provides the necessary sodium and also the umami characteristics that are so important in the anatomy of a marinade.

Keeping sodium in check

In addition to providing umami, naturally brewed soy sauce can reduce sodium in a marinade originally formulated with salt. For example, 1 tablespoon of salt has 6,900 mg sodium compared to Kikkoman soy sauce, which contains 920 mg of sodium, says Hunter. To further reduce sodium, he suggests reduced-sodium soy sauce, which has 575 mg sodium.

However, there is no magic bullet for successful salt reduction given the combination of taste and functional attributes. Were finding a combination of salt-mimic technologies is the best approach, says Gaffney. We test different salt replacers in combination with mineral salts and flavor enhancers to see what works best in each application, as the solutions are very application-specific.

Phosphates can work synergistically with salt. This often allows a marinade or sauce manufacturer to reduce the sodium level in a product, says Lirong Zhou, food scientist, ICL Performance Products.Potassium phosphates can substitute for sodium phosphates in many marinades to get additional sodium reduction. There is a slight bitterness with potassium, but that can be easily masked by other seasonings and spices present in the marinade.

For example, functional whey protein has been used to mask the undesirable metallic notes of potassium chloride, the most popular salt replacer, says Banes.

Lowering pH

Unlike brines, commercial marinades are acidic; their low pH is what primarily tenderizes protein. Common acids in marinades are vinegar, wine or fruit juices.

Proteins are covered in marinade for a shorter period of time than brines. Indeed, brining tends to be a lengthy procedure, with large, whole birds requiring as much as 48 hours to soak. The acids in marinades are much quicker-actingsome marinades do their job in as little as 20 minutes.

An acidic solution causes protein tissue to swell, says Joseph Sebranek, professor, Department of Animal Science, Iowa State University, Ames. The reason that this occurs is because the minimum water-binding point for meat is at pH 5.0 to 5.2. When pH increases or decreases above or below pH 5.0 to 5.2, water binding of meat will increase. Normal meat pH is 5.8 to 6.0, so initial decreases in pH will result in water losses. However, acidic marinades are typically well below pH 5.0; they decrease meat pH below 5.0. Research has shown that there is a steep increase in water uptake by meat as pH declines from 5.0 to 4.0, and maximum water uptake occurs at pH 3.0 to 3.4. Research has also shown that swelling and weight increase of meat can be as great as twofold at pH 4.0 and below."

Cooking yield is also improved by acid marination. Research has suggested that as much as a 30% increase in yield can be achieved in cooked products marinated at pH 3.5 compared with unmarinated controls, adds Sebranek. "An additional advantage to acid marination is improved tenderness, which parallels closely the water-binding and yield effects of pH changes. As with water binding, tenderness improves significantly when meat pH is reduced below 5.0.

Sebranek cautions that there are practical limitations to extreme reductions in meat pH. As pH approaches 4.0, meat color will begin to turn grey due to myoglobin denaturation, making product color very unattractive, he says. If pH is too low, acid flavor or tanginess may become dominant and may be unacceptable to consumers.

All dried up

When the topical application is mostly for flavor, a liquid marinade is not necessary. A dry rub, sometimes referred to as a dry marinade, is used to flavor and season meat, says Banes. It is rubbed on the outside and left to stand under refrigeration so the flavors can penetrate the muscle. Dry rubs can be left on the meat or scraped off prior to cooking.

Hunter adds: Theyre often mixed with oil to make a paste before being rubbed on meat. The pan juices for gravy can be more delicious and complex when the meat has had a dry rub application.

Dry rubs also add visual appeal. They typically contain dehydrated ingredients such as cracked black pepper and leafy herbs, or coloring agents such as caramel color, says Gaffney. Flavorings may be very concentrated and, thus, their low usage rate can provide good cost-in-use value.

Rubs generally contain some sugar, Johnson adds, which: not only provides a sweetening effect, it functions in the Maillard browning reaction involved with surface caramelization and can impart desirable, distinctive flavors.

Modified food starch can be added to dry rubs to promote adherence. Many dry rubs are formulated with a viscosifier such as modified food starch, which can absorb any purged moisture and turn this moisture into a sauce coating for the meat, says Putnam.

Precooked entrées

Heat-and-eat food manufacturers often rely on marinades to add cooking flavors to prepared foods. Many meat processors today fully cook products in conditions of lower temperatures and higher humidity in order to reduce yield losses and manage costs, says Rob Kerfin, product line manager, savory flavors, Red Arrow. In this environment, its very difficult to achieve desirable Maillard reaction flavor or other cooking-method profiles.

Johnson adds: Many prepared-food processors have a base marinade, and then customize it with an authentic cooking-method flavor, such as fire-roasted, grilled, oven-roasted, braised, fried, sautéed, smoked and others. These authentic cooking-method flavors impart traditional characteristic flavors to the base marinated foodstuff, even while the cooking method utilized is the same.

Kerfin says many of these flavors are stable through severe freeze/thaw cycles, which is critical given the growing popularity of heat-and-serve meals in retail freezer cases.

Cooking sauces

Unlike brines and marinades, which are discarded, cooking sauces are consumed. A sauce is a liquid or semisolid product used in the preparation of another food dish or as an accompaniment with another food dish and is meant to be consumed, says Leaslie Carr, senior associate, applications, National Starch. Specialty starches are used to thicken and add important textural attributes to sauces, such as mouth-coating. The starches also stabilize the product through processing, storage and onto the consumers plate.

 Sauce thickeners can go beyond starch. Functional whey proteins can create viscosity, reduce fat contents and improve the freeze/thaw stability of sauces, Banes says. They can also enhance emulsification while providing a clean dairy flavor in cream- and cheese-based sauces.

Maureen Akins, lead food scientist, TIC Gums, Belcamp, MD, says: When thinking about the stabilization of marinades and sauces, the approach is generally the same, regardless of the finished form. The resulting product must be able to cling to the surface of what is being coated, provide viscosity and mouthfeel, and survive the specific processing for the product. For freeze/thaw applications, water binding is an important consideration. For shelf-stable products, heat stability is a critical parameter. With dry mix applications, dispersion and rate of hydration are important.

Donna Berry, president of Chicago-based Dairy & Food Communications, Inc., has been writing about product development and marketing for 13 years. Prior to that, she worked for Kraft Foods in the natural-cheese division. She has a B.S. in food science from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She can be reached at [email protected].

 Flavor Boosters

American regional cuisine flavors are extremely popular. Many of these foods utilize slow-cooking methods, such as roasting and braising, says Pam Gray, associate manager, marketing services, Kraft Food Ingredients (KFI). Flavors can be incorporated into marinades and sauces in a manufacturing setting to replicate the slow-cooking processes.

Susan Parker, associate principal scientist, KFI, adds: Flavor can really differentiate a product from its competitors. A typical salt, water, phosphate and garlic marinade used to pump boneless, skinless chicken can be taken to the next level by adding a low level of a home-style chicken flavor. It adds a deliciousness while not being a polarizing flavor, nor does it add a significant cost to the final product.

Likewise, a savory beef enhancer can add value to raw and marinated beef applications, notes Zack Sanders, business manager, savory flavors, KFI. The flavor attributes are unique for different products. In fully cooked whole-muscle items, such as cook-in-bag pot roasts, the flavor delivers a savory, beefy profile with slight browned, cooked notes. In raw marinated steaks, the flavor delivers a rare, juicy-like flavor.

Many of these flavors are trying to replicate the savory taste sensation of umami. Naturally brewed soy sauce is a critical ingredient in marinades of any flavor profile. The unique flavor, sodium and umami characteristics all contribute to the mechanics of a marinade, says Andrew Hunter, foodservice and industrial chef, Kikkoman Sales USA, Inc., San Francisco. If a marinade or sauce has an Asian flavor profile, use at least 5% naturally brewed soy sauce to benefit from its flavor, aroma and umami-enhancing characteristics. If a Latin, Mediterranean or other regional flavor profile is the goal, use a lower percentage, or around 2.5%, to enhance the key flavors with umami.

Shawn Kohlmeier, marketing analyst, Red Arrow Products Co., Manitowoc, WI, says: More often, sauces and marinades are incorporating authentic cooking-method flavors to complement and further develop the existing elements of the product. Flavor companies offer the ability to customize these authentic flavors, and by incorporating customized cooking-method profiles, they provide a point of differentiation in a competitive marketplace.


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