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Diffusion through meat


HowardLi
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So we know that raw meat has no problem allowing many different molecules to diffuse through itself. Salt is the first thing that comes to mind. But how does the degree of doneness of the meat affect its propensity to allow diffusion? How effective is e.g. salting after a steak has been seared? Or can a long-cook meat be cooked separately from a braise or a stew and still be flavored throughout by the liquid, after it has been added back in?

 

My specific question is whether or not it is beneficial to SV a meat and then reintroduce it into a stew so that it doesn't get overcooked. However, (and maybe this isn't a disadvantage) it bears thinking about whether the inside of each piece of meat would be flavored by the stew itself.

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As a pure thought experiment, if the meat is cooked, it will have lost liquid. Liquid is the medium by which marinades, salt, etc move through the meat. My hypothesis would be that the loss of moisture created by cooking would slow down (but not stop) the speed of diffusion.

 

As the diffusion is slower and has not occurred in parallel with cooking, the post cook marinade would most likely take longer. If you left the cooked stew with sous vide meat added in the fridge overnight, the meat should absorb some of the flavouring through diffusion. By doing this for larger quantities, you could then vacuum seal the stew into serving portions and reheat sous vide to ensure that the meat is not over cooked. You could even include freezing in the mix to produce ready to heat frozen meals.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
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"----Liquid is the medium by which marinades, salt, etc move through the meat. ---"

 

Liquid may not be the key. Flavor can move inside meat without marinade. Smoking for instance.

 

dcarch

I think he means the liquid in the meat, not the marinade. So if liquid is lost during cooking, there'll be less of it transport the flavor.

Mark

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I think he means the liquid in the meat, not the marinade. So if liquid is lost during cooking, there'll be less of it transport the flavor.

That's exactly what I meant, thanks Mark.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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I've done A/B tests on this question.  My conclusion was that there was no advantage to cooking SV/LT in the sauce, i.e., that aside from salt the flavors didn't penetrate.  But, it's an easy test to do and YMMV.

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The science of this is pretty complex and depends in large part on the size of the molecules in question. Salt molecules are very small and diffuse easily through cell membranes. Fat molecules are large and don't seem to do so at all. This is why brining works as advertised, but confit does not. There's no difference in taste between something cooked in flavorful fat and something with the fat slathered on afterwards.

Notes from the underbelly

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This is true about fat which is complex and exists as large molecules. Flavour molecules, however, can be very small and definitely do penetrate, which gets back to the OP question.

 

In other posts we've discussed the phenomenon that clove scent penetrates sous vide bags and can be detected in the cooking water. If it can get through plastic it is most unlikely that it will not penetrate meat.

 

If flavour in liquid did not penetrate into meat the whole notion of marinading would be rendering null and void, which doesn't make sense from an experiential viewpoint (it would also negate curing and brining, which we know work). The question then becomes one of whether adding heat in the cooking process hinders flavours from penetrating. I'm very dubious about such a statement. 

 

To qualify as a scientific study, pbear's A/B/ test would have to be conducted by cooking the meat not in the sauce and in the sauce and then washing the sauce off, cutting pieces of the meat from below the surface and serving them blind to multiple tasters to determine if there was any difference. I suspect this hasn't been done.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
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Actually, it doesn't matter whether there's some minimal penetration which can only be detected by washing off the sauce and trimming the surface of the meat.  That's not how the dish is served.  Marinades can work without penetrating for the same reason.  BTW, I expected the opposite result, so this isn't a confirmation bias problem.  And I will point out thought experiments stand considerably further down the scientific ladder from non-blind tests.

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If the salt content in the meat is different from the salt content in the liquid surrounding it, water containing the salt will operate through osmosis to equilibrate these levels. The process also takes flavour with it. 


It won't take fat as the fat molecule is too big to enter the meat.

 

This is not a thought experiment but rather a simple statement of scientific fact as it is understood at this time (or at least as it was presented in the EdX course on Science and Cooking).

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Perhaps we're answering different questions.  To me, the interesting one - and the one I thought the OP is posing - is whether there's an important difference in cooking meat by SV/LT in a sauce as opposed to adding the sauce later.  My conclusion after many trials, admittedly not blind, is "no."  If your experience is otherwise, fair enough.  As I said, YMMV.  On the other hand, if (as appears) you're just working from principles, I'll put my not-blind tests against your well-reasoned intuitions any day.

 

In any event, I reject the notion that only blind tests may be used to develop recipes and cooking techniques.  If I had to live by that rule, I wouldn't get much done.  Rather, a good cook can draw valid conclusions without blind tests by employing a simple, healthy skepticism.  Most science, in fact, proceeds in the same fashion.

 

BTW, I'd appreciate a link to the EdX course you mention.  I'm always interested in learning new things.

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If the salt content in the meat is different from the salt content in the liquid surrounding it, water containing the salt will operate through osmosis to equilibrate these levels. The process also takes flavour with it. 

It won't take fat as the fat molecule is too big to enter the meat.

 

This is not a thought experiment but rather a simple statement of scientific fact as it is understood at this time (or at least as it was presented in the EdX course on Science and Cooking).

 

Osmosis is the movement of water - just water, and thus won't have an effect on flavour (texture sure, but flavour no...)

Osmosis is mediated by the concentrations of non-penetrating solutes - which would include most of the ligands for taste receptors (TAS/TRP GPCRS)

Penetrating solutes effect the osmolarity of the solution, not the tonicity.

 

Some basic ligands of taste receptors are L-Amino acids for umami (why the glutamate in MSG makes umami flavour), Cyclohexamide for bitter, Na+ for salt, H+ for sour and basic sugars and other compounds for sweet (I think sweet have the greatest range of ligands). Anyway, for any of these to penetrate the myocytes proper, they must be non-polar, in order to diffuse though the membrane, or be so small (talking really small) so as to pass through the cell membrane. Of these, only Na+ and H+ have that capability. Thus I'd say Salty and sour may have the ability to diffuse through meat, but most "flavour" substances are merely present on the external surface wether there by marination or in the sauce itself. 

 

That being said, marination can lead to more "flavour" particles developing within the marinade itself, and also leaching of fluids from the meat, maturation and other chemical reactions that would change the flavour of the marinade. And furthermore, this is only talking about diffusion into the myocyte, not the possibility of "flavour" particles getting into the fascicles or other "nooks and crannies" of the meat (where they may be subject to different temps that if they were in the sauce or on the extern surface, whereby reacting differently and contributing a different flavour to the finished dish. Also type of cooking process (maillard reaction etc.) change the flavour compounds. 

 

Most importantly do what tastes good!

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BTW, I'd appreciate a link to the EdX course you mention.  I'm always interested in learning new things.

I thoroughly enjoyed that course. It's finished, but the archives are available here: Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science

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Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
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Anyone who has made home-made bacon will tell you that the sodium nitrite in curing salt #1 penetrates the meat, apparently through diffusion (if it is taken out too early you get pink meat around the outside and regular coloured pork on the inside). Likewise salt is definitely absorbed into the structure; otherwise you couldn't get oversalted brined meat.

 

Acid in marinades breaks down the surface and enables penetration of larger molecules on the surface. Do this for too long and you'll get a surface breakdown similar to cooking but with possibly unpleasant consequences. 

 

As said above, the flavour molecules in cloves are so small that they penetrate plastic cooking bags used in sous vide. I'd venture that they could do likewise with meat, as well as many other flavours. Agreed, the process probably follows the random walk pattern of diffusion but I'm still not convinced that osmosis doesn't also play a part with water enabling the penetration of extremely small flavour molecules. Fat and similar big molecules are never going to get absorbed although with injection or larding, you can force them into the structure. 

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Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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  • 3 weeks later...

Now to take this in a slightly different direction: it's fairly well-known that a piece of meat, if SV cook-chilled, should not be salted beforehand so as to avoid curing of the meat during refrigerated storage, per Dave Arnold and others. However, if it is desirable to have salting through the meat and not just on the surface, how effectively does surface-sprinkled salt diffuse into the cooked meat, and does the temperature affect the salting?

Edited by HowardLi (log)
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Surprisingly large molecules can move through tissue (consider all the transdermally-delivered drugs).  I would expect certain flavors to penetrate meat. Some might be bound to proteins,but not all I'm sure. Some might favor fat, if nonpolar.

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Perhaps we're answering different questions.  To me, the interesting one - and the one I thought the OP is posing - is whether there's an important difference in cooking meat by SV/LT in a sauce as opposed to adding the sauce later.  My conclusion after many trials, admittedly not blind, is "no."  If your experience is otherwise, fair enough.  As I said, YMMV.  On the other hand, if (as appears) you're just working from principles, I'll put my not-blind tests against your well-reasoned intuitions any day.

 

In any event, I reject the notion that only blind tests may be used to develop recipes and cooking techniques.  If I had to live by that rule, I wouldn't get much done.  Rather, a good cook can draw valid conclusions without blind tests by employing a simple, healthy skepticism.  Most science, in fact, proceeds in the same fashion.

 

BTW, I'd appreciate a link to the EdX course you mention.  I'm always interested in learning new things.

Im curious for about your thoughts for example sous vide Beef Bourguignon.  Let's say I sous vide short ribs for 48 hours with nothing in the bag and then chill it and leave in the fridge.  The next day I add Bourguignon sauce to the cold short ribs in the bag and leave it in the fridge for a few hours.  Then I reheat the whole thing for 30 min.  Will this taste just as good as  short ribs that's sous vide with Bourguignon sauce to begin with for 48 hours?

 

Won't it be harder for the Bourguignon sauce to penetrate the meat since the meat is cold in the fridge?  

Edited by torolover (log)
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