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jmolinari

Flavored brines: What's the point?

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So we all know that salt brines work wonders on chicken, pork, turkey etc. The salt is dissolved in the water and is absorbed into the meat...no argument there.

My argument is with "flavored" brines that use herbs and spices. Isn't it true that the flavors in herbs and spices are oil based compounds? And therefore isn't it true that these oil based flavor compounds would float on the surface of the brine? If that is the case, how could they get absorbed with the salt, as they are not in the solution.

I postulate that adding these spices and herbs to brines is a waste of money.

Thoughts?


Edited by jmolinari (log)

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Maybe you get just the water-soluble flavors?

Perhaps the oil-soluble flavor compounds have very very low solubility in water, but enough to make a difference?

At work, we brine our pork with some aromatics (rosemary, juniper, onion, garlic, black pepper), and it definitely works...

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I know for sure, from a conversation with my father (a chemist), that you can disperse enough of a oil-like flavor into water to give the water very strong flavor.

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I know for sure, from a conversation with my father (a chemist), that you can disperse enough of a oil-like flavor into water to give the water very strong flavor.

Are you sure, or are you taking a sip of the water which includes the surface, and therefore the oils? What if you tasted it from the bottom with a straw, after letting the brine sit for a bit.

There must be some water soluble flavor compounds in herbs which do get into the water

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As I understand brining, what matters is not merely whether the flavor molecules are water soluble, but how big those molecules are. Not very many are small enough to pass through the cell walls.

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I know for sure, from a conversation with my father (a chemist), that you can disperse enough of a oil-like flavor into water to give the water very strong flavor.

Are you sure, or are you taking a sip of the water which includes the surface, and therefore the oils? What if you tasted it from the bottom with a straw, after letting the brine sit for a bit.

There must be some water soluble flavor compounds in herbs which do get into the water

The conversation actually had nothing to do with brines; I think it was actually about some flavored seltzer water I was drinking.

As I understand brining, what matters is not merely whether the flavor molecules are water soluble, but how big those molecules are. Not very many are small enough to pass through the cell walls.

Excellent point! I think cell membrane permeability is also largely determined by electrical charge. We've been talking about non-polar fat-soluble compounds, but in a brine we're also adding ions from salt into the mix, so maybe there's something going on there...here's where I hope someone with a chemistry background chimes in.


Edited by DLim (log)

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Ok, I am hypothesizing here. I often use cloves in my brines and "clove flavor" comes from eugenol. Any chemical ending with -ol indicates it is an alcohol. If you look at the chemical structure of eugenol (pp. 391 in McGee's ON FOOD & COOKING.), it is a 6 carbon aromatic phenol ring w/ an alcohol attached to one of the carbons. The alcohol increases the eugenol hydrophilicity (love of water.) However, by extracting the eugenol into a highly concentrated saline, the hydrogen is removed from the oxygen (donated by the oxygen) thereby increasing it's ionic attraction. In addition, the cell walls of animals are a bipolar phosopholipid layer (hydrophobic, literally fearing water), therefore hydrophilic (fat loving, same as hydrophobic) chemicals can disolve into the cell walls. Cinnamaldehyde (Cinnamon) has an aldehyde group that will be similar to alcohol in a highly ionic solution, vanillin has an alcohol and ketone (ketone is polar), menthol has an alcohol, thymol (thyme) an alcohol, etc.

In addition, one must understand that the primary (???) effect of a high concentration saline solution affects the ionic environment of the cell. Initially the water is drawn out of the meat by osmosis to equilibrate the ionic differences while salt is diffusing into the meat. Subsequently, the salt will cause the globular proteins in the meat (myoglobin for example) to "unravel" thereby causing the water to flood into the meat to equilibrate the differences in ionic strength. Carried along w/ the water would be the molecules of eugenol that are somewhat ionized b/c of there loss of a Hydrogen atom in the highly saline solution.

Furthermore, one has to consider that there is interstitial spaces between the cells (fibers of meat.) This is a significant area- affording a "place" for the hydrophobic/lipophillic flavor molecules. Hope that this helps.

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Harold McGee and/or the Cooking Issues team need their own bat signal for questions like this.

My take is, at the very least, flavoring a brine makes the kitchen smell nice.

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To Dave's excellent non-SSB response I will add the following anecdotal information: I am very sure that I can tell the difference between bacon that is cured with rosemary (or garlic, or pepper, or...) and bacon that is not. I have no ability to demonstrate why this is so using science, sadly.

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I can't give you the hows & whys of the chemistry. However, something effective is going on. It may be that enough of the oil is absorbed into the meat to give it that slight flavor. Remember, the oils in herbs and spices are very strong at full strength, even toxic.

A couple wks ago I attended a cooking demo in which a chef brined 2 heritage turkeys, one with a flavored brine (herbs & spices), one just salt, maybe a little sugar. Everything else in the cooking process was the same. There was a marked flavor difference between the 2 turkey samples. After tasting, people knew immediately which turkey had been soaked in the flavored brine. If you have any doubts, you can do a comparative brining yourself.

As to which turkey was the preferred flavor--that's where people differed. The flavored brine immediately hit the palate, and people said, Mmmm! But after a couple bites some people felt that the flavored brine masked the true flavor of this excellent turkey. The majority seemed to prefer the plain salt brine by the end of the tasting. One person (a local cooking teacher) advised using a flavored brine only when you're using a mediocre quality meat. I thought he made a good point.

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Pork chops out of a light brine (salty but palatable) made of dark beer, salt, bay, leaf and cloves for 48h, then oiled and grilled - they taste very much like beer!

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I've never been able to taste the "flavors" in a brine except for when I made the lemony brine for fried chicken from Ad hoc at home. There was an incredible amount of lemon flavor in the finished chicken. But detecting cloves and peppercorns? I guess my palate isn't refined enough.

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I saw this thread yesterday and smiled because I had two whole chickens I was planning on making. The first chicken I brined with only salt. The second I started by adding salt to hot water, and also adding a whole bunch of crushed garlic cloves and rosemary. I let it cool before submerging the chicken in it. I have been told that by starting with hot water it allows the flavors to "bloom", I tasted the brine from the bottom by using one of my basting tools and could definitely taste the flavors. Both chickens turned out great, but you could definitely taste the difference and both my wife and I preferred the garlic and rosemary one.

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I guess i also agree that the flavors do, somehow, get into the meat..i've experienced it myself.....but i also think it's not true for ALL flavors. It's obviously dependent on many factors, many of which i clearly don't understand:)

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Reading this I realized I always heat my brines, and even simmer them with certain aromatics. Perhaps that is one of the issues?

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i'm sure that heat released more flavor compounds...but i wonder if they are released into the air (for us to smell) or into the liquid. Probably both.

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It's my understanding that brines are mostly heated in order to dissolve the salt. all you have to do is make Keller's fried chicken once, to see just how much of the flavoured brine makes it into the chicken itself, and I'm not talking just the surface. You can taste the rosemary, lemon and bay in every single bite.

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It's important to note that brining / marinading doesn't only involve compounds passing through cell membranes. The effects are much more about what passes up / into the spaces between cells.

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It's my understanding that brines are mostly heated in order to dissolve the salt. all you have to do is make Keller's fried chicken once, to see just how much of the flavoured brine makes it into the chicken itself, and I'm not talking just the surface. You can taste the rosemary, lemon and bay in every single bite.

Marlene, I'm at work, haven't made that recipe and don't have Ad Hoc handy. Does he heat the brine?

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It's my understanding that brines are mostly heated in order to dissolve the salt. all you have to do is make Keller's fried chicken once, to see just how much of the flavoured brine makes it into the chicken itself, and I'm not talking just the surface. You can taste the rosemary, lemon and bay in every single bite.

Marlene, I'm at work, haven't made that recipe and don't have Ad Hoc handy. Does he heat the brine?

he does, Chris and this is what it says:

Combine all ingredients in a large pot, cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve salt. Remove from heat and let cool completely, then chill before using.

So, not for very long.

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It's important to note that brining / marinading doesn't only involve compounds passing through cell membranes. The effects are much more about what passes up / into the spaces between cells.

Really interested in this - someone above also mentioned interstitial space in muscle tissue. Any literature you can point us to?

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Hah!! Look what I just read in Harold mcgee's top 10 thanksgiving tips:

"6. Don't Bother Flavoring the Brine

"Salt molecules are tiny—it's just two ions, and they work their way into turkey meat relatively fast," explains Harold. "Aromatic molecules from things like herbs and vegetable, on the other hand, are very large"—relatively speaking, that is. This makes it difficult for them to penetrate into the turkey, so aromatics added to your brine won't have much more than a superficial effect."

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While McGee has never steered me wrong, I wonder if he might be simplifying the science just a bit for the wider public. There are, as far as I can see, potentially important variables involved here aside from molecule size (see particularly Tom Gengo's excellent post above discussing the possible roles of polarity, protein denaturation, interstitial spaces vs. migration across cell walls, etc.

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Does cooking somehow affect this phenomenon? After all, those of us who believe that there's a difference in proteins that have been brined with ingredients other than salt don't just eat brined meat; we eat brined and cooked meat. Is it possible that these limited surface effects caused during brining expand their reach during cooking?

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I sometimes put liquid smoke in my brine. I can definitely taste it after cooking.

In fact, I'm doing lamb ribs today. Frozen flanks went into salty water with saltpetre and liquid smoke, and are simmering at 100C for the next couple of hours.

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