Meats and Marinades: Carbohydrates Technologies

Carbohydrates added to marinade formulations help moisture management, improve yield, increase juiciness, bind protein and can increase tenderness or firmness of processed meats.

“A large list of carbohydrates can be injected into processed meats for these purposes,” explained Bryan Scherer, vice president research and development, for Penford Food Ingredients, in his Prepared Foods R&D Seminar presentation titled, “Meats & Marinades: Carbohydrates Technologies.”

“Carrageenan is very good at improving water-holding capacity, even sometimes creating too strong of a gel. Acetylated waxy corn, potato and other starches improve product performance, as well,” stated Scherer. “Alginates are also effective but require calcium to be present.”

Acetylated starches provide a number of benefits to processed meat. In a study with acetylated and slightly cross-linked starches used to marinate chicken breast, potato starch performed best, with corn and tapioca a close second. Consumers preferred the chicken with the potato or tapioca starch to the corn starch. Freeze-thaw stability and further processing stability is also improved. If used at the right levels, there will be no interference with flavor.

Two main types of marination are typically used in meat processing. Tumble marination occurs in a big holding tank, somewhat like a cement mixer that rotates. Basically, it involves mechanical massage under vacuum; tumbling the meat and working the marination into it. Tumbling works best on smaller cuts of meat because of the higher surface-area-to-volume-ratio.

“Tumbling is best for boneless or bone-in pieces, or smaller cuts of meat, because penetration of the marinade into the meat fibers is limited to a few millimeters. Cold temperatures enhance marination pick-up during tumbling. A disadvantage is that it is a batch process, so only one batch at a time can be marinated,” added Scherer. In addition to starches, a tumble marination formula typically includes water, salt and phosphate, which helps delay the dissolution and keeps up the water-holding capacity.

For a clean label marination formula, phosphates or modified starches cannot be used. Native starches give some improvement without phosphates but are not as good. Native waxy rice starch gives the best yield compared with other native starches.

The other typical marinating process is injection marination, where a conveyor belt pushes the meat through with a series of needles to inject marinade deeply into the meat. The needles are flexible and can go around bones, making this ideal for large cuts of bone-in meat or whole chickens and turkeys. It can also be used on smaller boneless cuts, but this is often overkill. Injection marination is a continuous process, which is beneficial.

“Similar marinade ingredients are used, [such as] water, salt and phosphates, which increase water-holding capacity of the muscle fibers,” adds Scherer.

Kappa carrageenan in very small amounts is an especially helpful ingredient in enhancing marinade functionality—giving juicier products, which translates into a lot of dollars considering rotisserie chicken volume.

In emulsified or formed meat products, meat, skin and fat is ground to a fine paste. Binders, emulsifiers, colors, flavors and seasonings are added. The emulsion is formed into shapes, like patties or nuggets, in forming machines. The product may then be frozen or further processed by breading, par-frying or fully frying. Deli meats are ground or chopped, then blended with binding agents and stuffed into casings or chubs like bologna, salami or hot dogs.

In summary, a wide array of starches and hydrocolloids can be used to improve quality of processed meats, providing an array of functional benefits. Formulations can also be tailored for specific applications. Additional test data is available on many products.

“Meats & Marinades: Carbohydrates Technologies,” Bryan Scherer, vice president research and development, Penford Food Ingredients,, 303-645-0175
—Summary by Elizabeth Pelofske, Contributing Editor


Sodium and Phosphate Reductions in Processed Meats

Healthiness and clean labeling are trending in processed meats, and two options in this arena are sodium and phosphate reduction.

“Processed foods account for almost 80% of our daily sodium intake, and of that 80%, about 21% is coming from processed meats,” explained John Reidy, market development manager at Jungbunzlauer. Reidy’s presentation, “Sodium and Phosphate Reductions in Processed Meats,” was presented at PF’s R&D Seminars. “US companies are concerned and are reducing sodium,” he added.

When reducing salt, increasing spices or acidity can help to improve flavor, but reduced quality, yield and texture may also occur—essentially adding cost. Use of certain natural compounds to replace sodium-containing ingredients is also trending now, but they are very expensive. Natural compounds can have clean labels, which are a positive to consumers, but there is still that loss of salt functionality.

“Curing salt is one of the major contributors of sodium in processed meat products. Curing salt is a combination of salt, nitrate or nitrite. In the U.S., curing salt typically contains 6.25% nitrite and is known as ‘pink salt.’ The functions of curing salt include preservation, flavoring and reddening of the meat. The nitrite inhibits pathogens; incorporates a cured flavor; and retards rancidity due to oxidation of lipids properties. Salt also inhibits pathogens by lowing water activity,” explained Reidy.

Curing salt alternatives with less sodium may contain sodium chloride, potassium chloride, sodium gluconate and sodium nitrite. Vinegar derivatives also are effective against microorganisms and are considered natural, as per the USDA.

A relatively new product is “celery extract,” which contains naturally occurring nitrites.

“When this celery extract is used, the finished meat product cannot be labeled as a cured product. Similar products based on other fruits and juices also exist. Lactates can also contribute to sodium in processed meat. By placing sodium lactate or sodium lactate blends with potassium lactate or potassium lactate blends, and utilizing a reduced sodium cure, sodium can be successfully reduced by over 50%,” stated Reidy.

A blend of potassium lactate and potassium diacetate has a saltier taste compared to other lactate blends, so less salt could be used in a formula. Cost reductions can be achieved when using a lactate/diacetate blend instead of straight lactate. The biggest benefit in using lactate blends is achieving similar functionality at a lower usage level and a higher cost-savings. Another benefit seen when using potassium lactate blends is a higher cut resistance, which means better slice-ability in deli meats.

Phosphates are also being reduced for clean labeling purposes. In processed meats, phosphates function to increase ionic strength and chelate divalent cations. These functions help maintain and increase pH, and improve texture and water-holding capacity.

The European Food Safety Authority has called for an assessment of the use of phosphates, indicating high intake of dietary phosphorus may be a public health concern. According to some, the potential hazards from overconsumption of phosphates may be osteoporosis, damaged blood vessels and impaired kidney function. These concerns are mostly in Europe, but are gaining voice in the U.S., where the call for phosphate reduction currently is associated with clean labels.

Phosphate alternatives for use in processed meats include carrageenan, fibers and starch, which are functional but costly. Whey proteins can be useful but pose an allergen concern. Plum extract functions very well, but it is still new and unconfirmed. Sodium gluconate is a relatively new player that can provide a partial replacement and help to make other options more cost-effective.

In summary, options exist for healthier processed meats with reduced sodium and phosphate. Often blends of ingredients are necessary, depending on the product.

“Sodium & Phosphate Reductions in Processed Meats,” John Reidy, market development manager, Jungbunzlauer,, 617-462-8559
—Summary by Elizabeth Pelofske, Contributing Editor