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jmolinari

Flavored brines: What's the point?

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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.

Dave, your kind words are appreciated very much. However, please understand that I am simply hypothesizing what may happen- it has been over 25 years since my graduate school basic sciences. In this one case I have to disagree w/ McGee since the fruit of the tree (pun intended) is the end product and the flavor. I have always been able to discern a difference in taste w/ my brines beyond the moistness & salt added. Another added factor is "resting time." I always allow my brined meat to rest for about 24 hours prior to cooking. For skin on poultry it has been to allow the skin to dry somewhat so it crisps when cooked. This "resting time" allows for equilibration of the salt through the meat, however this also allows greater time for the larger molecules to migrate deeper into the meat.

I would propose an experiment here. To cut pork loin into uniform cubes of 1" and brine each in increasing flavoring and for varying lenghts of time in the same volume of fluid and concentration of salt as below here:

In 2 cups of water dissolve 60 grams of kosher salt and then brine the following:

Time Flavoring Quantity (eg. grams of garlic)

1 hour 100

2 hours 100

3 hours 100

4 hours 100

1 hour 200

2 hours 200

3 hours 200

4 hours 200

1 hour 400

2 hours 400

3 hours 400

4 hours 400

AFter brining, rinse thouroughly, dry and cook in a 200 F oven to an internal temp of 175F. I suggest a 200 oven to avoid the maillard browning of meat which would likely interfere w/ tasting the garlic, and internal temp of 175 for uniform texture. Then, cut 1/4 inch from each side to expose the center of the meat and taste. By removing the exterior 1/4 inch we are essentially accounting for McGee's theory that the molecules are too big for diffusion. We could remove the outer 1/4 inch prior to cooking, but it is possible as the kinetic energy of these large molecules are raised through cooking thereby resulting in increased movement deeper into the tissue. I suspect that a 1" cube of pork brined for 4 hours w/ 400 grams of garlic will be deeply flavored at the interior.

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I'm curious if anybody has a better answer now, 7 years later. If you brine chicken in chicken broth + salt, would the flavor from the chicken broth get inside the chicken (you can replace chicken broth with milk, cider, etc.)? If so, how does that work? I thought the complex oil molecules are too large to permeate?

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39 minutes ago, hainanchicken said:

I'm curious if anybody has a better answer now, 7 years later. If you brine chicken in chicken broth + salt, would the flavor from the chicken broth get inside the chicken (you can replace chicken broth with milk, cider, etc.)? If so, how does that work? I thought the complex oil molecules are too large to permeate?

That would be a fairly easy experiment to do -just get a package of chicken thighs (usually 10 per pack) and brine 2 normally, brine 2 in stock, brine 2 in cider, brine 2 in milk, and don't brine 2 of them, then roast and taste.

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1 hour ago, Lisa Shock said:

That would be a fairly easy experiment to do -just get a package of chicken thighs (usually 10 per pack) and brine 2 normally, brine 2 in stock, brine 2 in cider, brine 2 in milk, and don't brine 2 of them, then roast and taste.

I actually want to poach them afterwards (in sous vide bags), as I'm testing hainan chicken, but yes. I'm wondering if anybody has any explanations for the science that's going on, though, especially if I'm not roasting. I'm curious if any complex oil molecules can actually permeate from inside to outside or vice versa.

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Oils will not travel, the molecule is too large. This was tested and proven in the Modernist Cuisine labs. That said, some things will permeate, like liquid smoke or smoke flavor from other smoked items.

A few years ago (sorry just remembered this debacle) I got some beef stock to permeate skinless chicken thighs for a competition (had to use sponsor's boullion products) but tasters found the flavor to be undesirable, 'tastes reheated' and 'old tasting' were the notes I was given. I had done this based upon some reading I had done claiming that fast food places brine chicken breasts with flavor enhancers like pork and beef.

 

The science is pretty simple: diffusion plays the largest role. Changes in flavor during cooking (thinking about garlic here) and interaction between ingredients during cooking also play roles.

 

Good luck!

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20 hours ago, hainanchicken said:

I'm curious if anybody has a better answer now, 7 years later. If you brine chicken in chicken broth + salt, would the flavor from the chicken broth get inside the chicken (you can replace chicken broth with milk, cider, etc.)? If so, how does that work? I thought the complex oil molecules are too large to permeate?

I do not find any fresh herbs added to a brine, do anyhing for the inside of any meats. I do however notice a huge flavor increase with soy sauce, worcestershire,  and lime. My guess is those flavors are all water soluble.

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4 hours ago, Lisa Shock said:

Oils will not travel, the molecule is too large. This was tested and proven in the Modernist Cuisine labs. That said, some things will permeate, like liquid smoke or smoke flavor from other smoked items.

A few years ago (sorry just remembered this debacle) I got some beef stock to permeate skinless chicken thighs for a competition (had to use sponsor's boullion products) but tasters found the flavor to be undesirable, 'tastes reheated' and 'old tasting' were the notes I was given. I had done this based upon some reading I had done claiming that fast food places brine chicken breasts with flavor enhancers like pork and beef.

 

The science is pretty simple: diffusion plays the largest role. Changes in flavor during cooking (thinking about garlic here) and interaction between ingredients during cooking also play roles.

 

Good luck!

 

I think it probably isn't that the oil molecules are too large but that they are non-polar and won't diffuse into the water-saturated meat since water is weakly polar.

 

Although oil may not diffuse into meat, it might have other effects in combination with water solutions. There is a chemistry technique called liquid-liquid extraction where compounds are extracted from a material, e.g. a solid herb into a liquid say oil in this hypothetical case. Then they can be transferred into a separate aqueous phase even though they would not be directly extracted into water. Just throwing that out there.

 

Even without an oil phase, the salt in a brine could enhance the transfer of flavours into the meat by changing the solution chemistry.

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I do a brine for turkey every year for Thanksgiving. Basically salt, honey, bay leaf,  cloves and pickling spice. Overnight brine and then smoke using pecan. 

 

Sure seems to pick up the flavor. 

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I'm reading all the posts and thinking how complicated this is.  If I read the original post correctly the question is whether there's any point of adding oil based flavors to a brine.  But the title asks if there's any point of adding *any* flavorings to a brine.  But even water soluble flavors might be too large (molecularly speaking) to penetrate the meat.   Also, sources of oil-based flavors, like a peppercorn, may have some other flavors that might not be oil based.

 

Then there's the salt factor.  Salt can bring out flavors we didn't know were there and that we might otherwise attribute to other ingredients.

 

Then there's the osmosis/diffusion/just-sneaking-into-nooks-and-crannies angle.  Would we be confident brining our piece of chicken in sewer water and salt?  Confident that only the salt would penetrate?

 

After thinking about all of this, I think the most relevant test is salt and sugar (vs. salt only).  The sugar is often recommended as a way to balance the saltiness of the brine.  They're both clearly water soluble.  Perhaps invert sugar would be preferred in this case as the molecules would be smaller?

 

If adding sugar to brine were to be debunked,  that would move ball significantly.  And if it held up, well then, just the same.

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Oh wait, what about nitrates/nitrites?  Clearly, they're pretty good at penetrating meat, although they might not technically be flavoring agents.

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