Food Science: How Does Brining Work?

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We’ve talked about how much we love brining lean cuts of meat to infuse extra moisture and flavor before cooking.

This technique is widely used in traditional Scandinavian cuisine and has definitely made its way into cuisines world wide.

Though we’ve enjoyed the tasty results of brining ourselves, we were curious about how brining actually alters the taste and texture of meat.

To find out, we turned to our favorite food scientist, Harold McGee!

In On Food and Cooking, McGee talks about the two-part effect of brining.

First, the salt in the brine actually starts to break down tough muscle fibers. When cooked, these muscle fibers don’t tighten as much as they normally would. This creates a more tender mouthfeel and reduces the chewiness in a tough cut of meat.

(This is also why some brined meats can be a little mushy, especially if they were fattier cuts or have been brined for too long.)

Secondly, the salt interacts with the proteins in the meat to draw in and retain water within the cells. When you cook the meat, a certain amount of moisture still evaporates, but enough remains to give your meat a the ‘juicy’ texture when eaten.

This is one time when we find our old nemesis “water retention” actually playing a beneficial role!

Who knew?!

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