Enhanced meat — via marinades and brines — can be defined as fresh, whole-muscle meat that has been injected with a solution of water and other ingredients that may include salt, phosphates, antioxidants and flavorings.

Typically, brines and marinades are injected into a product to ensure quality and flavor.

In terms of food safety, when meat is injected with a solution to enhance moisture and flavor, spoilage microorganisms can go along for the ride deep inside the meat. Adding a substance like sodium L-lactate to the solution delays or inhibits the growth of spoilage microorganisms, thus extending the shelf life of the meat.

Injecting meat with a solution containing phosphates results in better meat color, increased water retention and reduced rancidity caused by the oxidation of metal ions in meat. The combination of potassium L-lactate and salt can reduce the oxidation of fat, resulting in better color and odor in some refrigerated and frozen meats.

There are many reasons why the meat industry is trending toward enhanced meats. To further investigate these trends, and the existing uses of marinades and brines in meat and poultry processing, The National Provisioner queries Thomas Powell, executive director of the American Meat Science Association, and Joseph G. Sebranek, Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture and Life Sciences, Department of Animal Science, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University, about their views on the subject.

The National Provisioner: What are the primary uses for marinades and brines in meat and poultry processing?

Thomas Powell: Many meat and poultry products are soaked in liquid marinades and brines primarily for flavor and texture improvement. Brines are technically a kind of marinade that are typically focused on texture development (tenderness, juiciness, mouthfeel, etc.). Most frequently, the primary ingredient in a brine is a salt of some kind.

Joseph G. Sebranek: The distinction between these two terms [marinades and brines] is a lot more blurred than it used to be. Traditionally “to marinate” meant to soak or pickle meat cuts by immersing them in a solution for tenderization, flavor improvement, color enhancement, etc., or by applying the solution to the surface of the cuts. The solutions often contained flavoring agents (including a low concentration of salt), tenderizers, acids (vinegar, fruit juices, etc.) and spices. A “marinade” was typically applied to the outside surface of cuts. A “brine,” on the other hand, has traditionally been understood to mean a solution with relatively high salt content. “Brines” in meat processing most often include curing agents as used for bacon, ham, etc., and usually are injected into the meat cuts.

More recently, “marinade-like” solutions of salt, phosphate, flavorings and sometimes coloring agents are being injected at low concentrations into cuts. These products are the enhanced fresh-meat products that have become quite popular. This process is similar to marinating in terms of effects but includes mechanical injection to accelerate the process and make products more uniform.

So while “brines” are still used for injecting hams, bacon, corned beef, etc. with solutions of relatively high salt content and curing agents, “marinades,” which have been traditionally thought of as a solution applied to the outside of meat cuts for flavoring and tenderization, are also now being injected into many products to achieve similar results.

NP: Do processors use marinades and brines primarily for tenderizing, texturizing, flavorizing or food safety? All of the above? How?

Powell: Products soaked in a marinade or brine absorb the ingredients in the solution. These ingredients in a marinade or brine are formulated to create a specific flavor and texture profile in the product. Through the marination process, the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the product, rather than just being deposited on the surface. Texture development is typically a process where the muscle proteins are at least partially broken down or dissolved by the compounds in the marinade. Depending on the product, this results in a more tender and/or more consistent product. The processes involved vary widely depending on the type of product (fresh meat versus processed) and the marinade or brine used.

There can be antimicrobial properties of ingredients in a marinade. Though not a primary means of ensuring food safety, these can be an additional intervention that enhances the shelf life and/or safety of the product.

Sebranek: All of these are the best answer but not necessarily all at the same time or for the same product. For example, the first enhanced fresh-meat products had added water with a little salt and phosphate. This improves moisture retention and tenderness. Some of these products now include lactate, which is a good antimicrobial and will help shelf life.

Acid marinades will also significantly affect flavor and will impact potential microbial growth. Use of spices such as paprika and red pepper will contribute to product appearance and color so there are lots of functions that these solutions provide that are similar to the traditional “marinade” concept.

NP: What are the current flavor-profile trends in terms of marinades and brines in the meat and poultry industry? Any new innovations and/or products?

Powell: In my experience, flavor profile trends follow the general trends of ethnic and cultural diversity in our society. The U.S. population has seen shifts in ethnic distribution that have resulted in an expanding array of food/culinary preferences. In addition, as the meat industry trains its sights on meeting the needs of a global market, R&D specialists are being exposed to a wider variety of flavor combinations.

Sebranek: The trends are toward more variety in fresh meat cuts for consumers.

The “enhancement solutions” offer opportunity to easily introduce new flavors and flavor combinations for fresh meat products and the only limit is the imagination.

Preserving terms

The truth about basting, brining and marinating.

People are always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to prepare old standards such as chicken and turkey, says the United States Department of Agriculture. That said, several methods have become popular in recent years that involve the use of a liquid to change or improve the flavor, taste, tenderness or texture of poultry. Various liquids can be added to poultry by many different methods such as injection, marinating, brining or basting. Consumers can purchase raw poultry products that have already been marinated, basted or brined.


The verb “marinate” means to steep food in a marinade. A marinade is a savory acidic sauce in which a food is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it. According to Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, “Marinades began as simple brines for preserving fish. The word marinade stems from the same root as the word maritime. In modern usage, a marinade consists of a cooking oil, an acid (vinegar, lemon juice, wine), and spices. As the food stands in the mixture, the acid and the oil impart the savory flavors of the spices to the food. The acid also has a tenderizing action.” The acid in marinades causes poultry tissue to break down. This has a tenderizing effect. The breaking down of the tissue also causes the poultry to hold more liquid, making it juicier. Too much vinegar or hot sauce in a marinade can have the opposite effect, causing the meat to be stringy and tough.


The verb “brine” means to treat with or steep in brine. Brine is a strong solution of water and salt. A sweetener such as sugar, molasses, honey or corn syrup may be added to the solution for flavor and to improve browning. The salt has two effects on poultry, reports Dr. Alan Sams, a professor of poultry science at Texas A & M University. “It dissolves protein in muscle, and the salt and protein reduce moisture loss during cooking. This makes the meat juicier [and] more tender, and improves the flavor. The low levels of salt enhance the other natural flavors of poultry.”


The verb “baste” means to moisten meat or other food while cooking. Melted butter or other fat, meat drippings, or liquid such as a stock is spooned or brushed on food as it cooks to moisten it. A bulb baster can also be used to drizzle the liquid over the food. Basting adds flavor and color, and prevents poultry from drying out. Consumers can purchase raw poultry products that have already been marinated, basted or brined. These products have been injected or marinated with a solution containing butter or other edible fat, broth, stock, or water, plus spices, flavor enhancers, colorings, or other approved substances. If terms such as “basted,” “self-basted,” “marinated,” or “for flavoring” are listed on a raw poultry label, a solution has been added during processing — up to 3 percent by weight for bone-in poultry, and up to 8 percent by weight for boneless poultry.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture