Breaking it Down
By Lynn Petrak, special projects editor
Brines and marinades impart a range of characteristics for today’s function-driven processors.
Sometimes, the solution to issues in flavor, texture, yield and safety can be a solution itself. Although brines and marinades have long been added to meats, today’s applications reflect innovative products and production methods.
Ingredients providers are continually introducing products that work synergistically to satisfy consumer palates as well as processors’ own business demands. Today’s brines and marinades are comprised of traditional ingredients such as salt and phosphates, cutting-edge custom blends, and — in a what’s-old-is-new twist — natural components including fruits, herbs and vinegars.
Marinades and brines are used for certain reasons. Brines consisting of a salt-water solution add moisture to meat by way of osmosis. Marinades, generally made from acids, oils and herbs, tenderize and add flavor.
Suppliers point to those and other benefits.
“Taste is a perception improved by activating the saliva response and releasing molecules of aroma into the back of the throat. Marinated meats can help release these molecules on the taste buds and into the back of the throat, increasing the taste perception,” explains Marcy Epstein, director of research and development for specialty seasoning supplier FirstSpice Mixing Co. Inc. “In addition, some types of marinades improve the warmed-over flavor that can be associated with cooked meat.”
David D. Grex, manager of the IsoStat products group for ingredient provider Newly Weds Foods, Inc., points to other attributes.
“Functional brines provide added moisture to provide juiciness and succulence, they create a more uniform texture, improve sliceability and provide a visually-appealing product by reducing voids and purge. They also serve as a delivery system for your food-safety ingredients,” he states.
Spicing it up
In recent years, as the protein market has shifted to more value-added products, marinades and brines have become the focus of development.
“The latest marinades and brines include products that utilize multifunctional properties of blend ingredients like fruit juices and vinegar,” reports Rick Hull, vice president, technical services and business development for World Technology Ingredients Inc. (WTI), which offers functional ingredients and technologies to the food-processing industry. “The technology is both for flavoring and antimicrobial purposes, based on usage level. That is unique and breakthrough.”
Grex agrees that multifunctionality is pivotal.
“It needs to be cost-competitive, fill a need to the consumer, [and] taste as fresh on Day 30 as it did on Day One, with total safety for the consumer,” Grex observes.
Multifunctionality extends to a variety of ingredients. Gums, for instance, are used to impart a variety of characteristics. Maureen Akins, lead food scientist for TIC Gums, cites examples of hydrocolloids used like xanthan gum and guar gum in tumble marination.
“You may need spice adhesion, you may need suspension and emulsification characteristics and have to have some cling, some viscosity,” she explains.
Other marketplace trends are exemplified in marinated and brined products. Recent demand for proteins deemed natural, for example, has impacted how meat and poultry products are flavored or tenderized.
“Lately the trends for brines, marinades and seasonings in general, have been toward ‘All Natural’ flavor profiles,” says Jay Hall, president of Excalibur Seasoning Co., Ltd. “What this means is, we use ingredients that a person would normally find in their kitchen.”
“That is your trend of clean labels, a push to simplify labels and put things in a consumer-friendly way,” he adds. “There are plenty of naturally occurring components in fruit concentrates suited for multifunctional purposes in fresh and cooked meat products. One example is certain naturally occurring acids, which serve to stabilize color and act as antimicrobials, beyond adding flavor.”
That said, there can be a tradeoff for processors looking to remove ingredients such as phosphates and replace them with other natural components. Different balances of ingredients and different processes can be required in the absence of phosphates to ensure that the quality, consistency and yield of the finished is at or close to the same as it was, Hull notes.
Consumer interest in natural ingredients is likely to shake up formulations in other ways.
According to Hull, the next evolution of natural ingredients may be a focus on functionality from a health and nutrition standpoint.
“It’s about how we can take these same ingredients to meet dietary needs, through healthy-for-you marinades and brines,” he says, citing ingredients like cranberries, which have been shown to have positive health effects.
While a certain population is clamoring for simpler natural ingredients, that’s not to say interest in flavor is simple.
According to Excalibur’s Hall, consumers’ penchant for bold flavors continues, and the company has responded to trends for Mediterranean and Caribbean flavors and more pepper and garlicflavors. That said, perennial favorites have not been replaced, just complemented.
“Flavors that continue to be our top sellers are barbecue, mandarin-teriyaki, lemon-garlic, lemon-pepper, Greek, and tomato-basil. We’re continually offering new and exciting flavors, but the old tried-and true-flavors still remain at the top of the list in volume,” says Hall.
At FirstSpice, Epstein reports that processors are looking to distinguish themselves through distinctive flavor profiles.
“We work with our customers to tailor the flavors and texture of their meat products,” she says of the supplier’s offerings ranging from phosphates to natural meat seasonings to curries and ethnic sausage seasonings.
Cost efficiencies also contribute to product development. Hall reports that processors are concerned about pricing, although the general market traditionally drives economics.
“Unfortunately all raw materials have increases in cost over this past year. Mostly it has been due to energy costs increases,” he says.
Other suppliers are also responding to their processor customers feeling the pinch of rising costs in all areas. At Morton Salt, technical services manager Linda Kragt says that a popular salt used for marinades is Morton Star Flake® Dendritic Salt, which is finer than granulated salt.
“Dendritic is a hybrid between granulated and flake grades and has a lot of surface area so it dissolves more rapidly. Some customers have a specified time in which the marinade ingredients have to dissolve, so use of a fast-dissolving salt such as Dendritic can save on labor costs,” explains Kragt.
In the final analysis, the development and application of any brine or marinade are is done to enhance quality.
“You’re always back to the most important part of the give and take — consumer acceptability and food safety,” says Hull. “Those are non-negotiable.”