Consumers enjoy and value meats that have been marinated, as the flavor that penetrates the meat also helps make it moist and tender. 

Flavorful Functionality of Marinades -- February 2010
Bret A. Lynch, Contributing Editor

Marinating has been a major contributor of the global food architecture for thousands of years, for it serves as a foundation to many chefs’ signature dishes. Marinades (from the Latin mare, meaning “the sea”) got their start before refrigeration (with salting meat) and have had a long journey: from creating wholesome sustenance to transforming center-of-the-plate proteins to the “crave-able,” amazing, food experiences that form some of the most comforting memories. 

Marinade Basics
Commonly used to flavor foods, tenderize tougher cuts of meat or firm vegetables, marinades generally contain one or more of the following: seasonings (salt, spices, aromatic herbs and vegetables), acids (vinegar, wine, yogurt or citrus juices) and oil. Each component is its own catalyst, depending on the time the product is exposed to the marinade and functional requirements. The citrus component, for example, can modify textural characteristics and, in some cases, can firm or even “cook” foods, as in the lime juice marinade for raw, pickled fish in the traditional Latin American dish, ceviche. The process may last seconds or days, depending on the ethnic origin of the recipe. The acid portion of the marinade, especially when using citrus or other fruits, not only affects texture, but also provides a complex character of sour and bitter; all this occurs while supporting an acidic balance and providing natural sweetness. However, too much acid can be detrimental to the end product, degrading the texture, if exposed for an extended period of time.

The intended flavor of a marinade, intensity, cooking method and application must be considered. Marinades can be applied externally or internally; for example, a wet marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, herbs and spices could be applied in a “static method,” where a tender fillet portion or vegetable is soaked in marinade, until the proper flavor and texture is met, or the marinade can is deposited in a vacuum pouch with a protein. A dry rub usually consists of salt and seasonings and is applied to the surface of a product to impart flavor, texture and, often, color. A glaze, wet rub or paste-style marinade coats the surface of a product with dry seasonings mixed with ingredients like fresh herbs, ground nuts or fruit purees. “Internal marinades” consist of tumble-marinating and injection. With tumble-marinating, a concentrated marinade mixture and smaller, more durable raw materials are placed in a sealed drum under vacuum, to assist in opening up the filaments of a muscle and to let the marinade penetrate and infuse flavor in a short period of time. Injection requires a fine marinade or brine with little or no particulate pumped through needles penetrating the muscle with the marinade; this also assists in tenderizing, by breaking the muscle structure. Regardless of the style of marinating, considerations must be made for the level of sugars, spices or solids left on the surface of the product, so it does not burn during cooking.

Marinade Techniques Spark Infusion
Brining is a marinating technique that assists in adding and retaining moisture in cooked proteins, especially in larger, tougher cuts of meat, where size, time and salt level are critical.  Regional American barbecue is a great example. In this case, a beef brisket is brined with brown sugar and sea salt, rubbed with a bold chile powder seasoning blend and smoked with hickory chips for 12 hours. Salt disrupts the muscle structure and--with a 3% salt solution or a light brine of 1 part salt, 1 part sugar to 2 parts very cold water (which helps open up filaments of the muscle)--breaks down the protein structure to develop tenderizing qualities. Simultaneously, it increases the water-holding capacity of the muscle, resulting in a juicier product. A specific flavor profile can be introduced at the brine level, by infusing the brine with aromatic herbs, vegetables, spices or wine. Fruit juices can be substituted for part of the sugar, and soy sauce may be introduced for a portion of the salt and water, adding an additional savory note. One example would be apple ginger spiced pork brine, made up of apple juice concentrate, orange juice, sea salt, ginger, garlic, minced onion, allspice, thyme leaves and sherry wine.

Wet marinades are the most common form of imparting great ethnic flavors into proteins. Chefs often demonstrate creative combinations in traditional regional flavors fused with unique ingredients. Sometimes, simple is better. A Mediterranean-style marinade could give subtle flavor to an already rich and complex protein, such as wild Alaska sockeye salmon, using a good fruity olive oil, freshly grated orange rind, shallots, lemon thyme and smoked paprika.  A Korean-style bulgalbi marinade on short ribs, with soy sauce, sesame oil and garlic, could have sweetness imparted through the addition of blackberry puree and the acid of rice vinegar.  Greek lemon chicken would light up with lemon juice paired with pomegranate juice concentrate, chopped garlic, oregano, parsley and black pepper, which will add natural sweetness to an acidic marinade and support even browning during cooking. Cooked cannellini beans, firm vegetable pieces of cauliflower, eggplant, celery, carrot and bell pepper can be dropped into a heated liquid marinade of balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, sea salt, crushed chile and fresh herbs and chilled for a unique, pickled antipasti mixture. These are a few examples of how traditional marinades can take on a new dimension.

Customized Marinades
Celebrity chefs and entrepreneurs’ family recipes are making their mark on the retail shelves.  The company Made in Napa Valley provides products to specialty grocery stores and features a Shanghai Tangerine Sesame Marinade that imparts an intricate balance of recognizable Asian flavors with a complex savory, spicy and bright fruit character.

Wet rubs, like Moroccan charmoula, blend cilantro, jalapeño peppers, white vinegar, ginger, garlic, lemon peel, cumin seed and paprika, and are made to be rubbed over trimmed pork loin chops and then slow-roasted. 

Indian chicken, tikka masala, can be modified to deliver a bold creative twist, by adding a mixture of yogurt with naturally active tenderizing enzymes, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cayenne and turmeric and then marinating it for 12 hours. The chicken should be oven-roasted until golden and baked in a roasting pan with ground almonds, onion, garlic, ginger, garam masala and chile powder; instead of tomato, substitute mango for a tropical version of a traditional Indian cuisine staple.

Steve Corson, research chef, Northwest Naturals, says, “Fruit juice concentrates and fruit juice blends transition extremely well into marinades. They have high flavor and color impact, with low usage levels and natural enzymes that work well in the tenderization of protein. We are finding that ethnic flavors from Southeast Asia, with citrus and tropical fruits; India, with mango and other tropical flavors; and even the Mediterranean, with bitter citrus and pomegranate flavors, are becoming more popular.”

Dry rubs can be as simple as salt, pepper and spices sprinkled over a portion of meat or vegetables before they go on the grill, or they can carry a much bigger culinary punch. In a seasoning blend, salt and sugar usually make the base, with the addition of an intended flavor profile. For example, in Caribbean jerk seasoning, dry granulated garlic, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne pepper form the flavor profile, along with the salt and brown sugar rubbed on chicken breasts before grilling or roasting.

A commercially prepared seasoning might add natural flavors and oils, such as lime that has been spray-dried to add complexity and incorporate the acidic balance. Savory notes can be increased with the addition of a dry powdered yeast extract, or a roasted or natural grill flavor.  Rustic texture can be achieved by adding cracked or whole spices, such as cumin seed, cracked fennel or anise seed, or even small pieces of dried, roasted garlic. Small chopped, dehydrated red and green bell peppers can be added as color inclusions and added texture, though caution should be taken in cooking applications where some of the ingredients might darken during cooking. Seasoning color can be imparted through natural colorants, such as pimento oil, turmeric and dried caramel, to enhance browned or bright visuals in what otherwise might be a pale-colored product.

Pacific Northwest chef Tom Douglas’ product, Rub with Love, inspires regional international flavors, with items such as African Peri Peri, Spicy Tokyo and Bengal Masala, as well as balanced protein topical seasoning blends, and salmon, pork and steak rubs.

Marinating and brining are great ways to bring a complexity of flavors to the table, when targeting specific traditional and contemporary recipes. Choose a specific protein with the right flavor-enhancing system and one that helps guarantee a moister and more flavorful meal experience for the consumer. pf

Bret A. Lynch is the proprietor and executive chef of Seattle-based EverGreen Culinary Solutions, LLC, which specializes in sustainable and organic new product development consulting. He is internationally recognized in the foodservice, retail, education and R&D areas, with over 25 years of experience. Chef Lynch represents manufacturers, ingredient suppliers and national account restaurant chains, operating as a research chef. He can be contacted at:, and 206-849-4329. 

  Website Resources: -- Home page of Tom Douglas’ line of cooking rubs and marinades -- Type “marinades” into the search engine, for a plethora of articles on the subject -- An interesting Los Angeles Times (May 2009) article on marinades, with links to recipes