Consumers typically consider marinades to be a tool for adding flavor to animal proteins prior to cooking. On the manufacturing side, marinades are all about product enhancement – from increasing yield to improving eating quality.

“Industrial marinades are designed to add value to raw, whole-muscle proteins,” says Yan Huang, technical service-meat, seafood and poultry with Innophos, Cranbury, NJ. “They are typically applied by the packer via injection or tumbling, either for the sole purpose of improving yield through increased water retention or also adding some flavor.”

Industrial marinades can also mask inconsistencies in meat that arise from inherent biological differences related to breed, diet, age and physiological growth or maturity of the animal. They can even improve the eating quality and flavor of less-utilized, tougher cuts of meat.

Marinade composition depends upon the application system. Those that are vacuum-tumbled must be designed to penetrate the meat and will often contain particulates to give more visual appeal to the product’s surface. On the other hand, injected marinades cannot contain particulates, as they might clog the injection needles.

Salt and phosphates

Industrial marinades, sometimes referred to as deep marinades, are composed of various functional ingredients that interact with the protein molecules. They typically include water, salt and phosphate, as both salt and phosphate increase the water-holding capacity of the meat, thus increasing yields and pricing margins. Other common ingredients include organic acids to improve shelf-life and enhance flavor, antioxidants to improve display life and prevent formation of off flavors, enzymes to tenderize muscle and influence texture and flavoring compounds to mask or enhance flavor.

“The use of alkaline phosphates has long been recognized as a highly effective means of improving the water-binding capacity of the protein by increasing the protein pH away from its isoelectric point,” Huang explains. “The rise in pH increases the net negative charge, which results in electrostatic repulsion between the muscle fibers. This increases the muscle’s ability to absorb moisture and retain it once the product is cooked. Thus, marinades can increase visual appeal during the shelf-life of the fresh product, and after cooking, the product retains its juiciness,” Huang adds.

Some phosphates will also improve product shelf-life by inhibiting lipid oxidation, which can lead to the development of off-flavors and odors. This reaction is catalyzed by metal ions that are naturally present in muscle tissues. Some phosphates will bind these metal ions, rendering them unavailable.

“Notably, phosphates are even more effective in the presence of salt,” Huang adds. “This is because salt lowers the pH at which minimum water binding occurs while the alkaline compounds raise the pH of the meat. The resulting pH is even farther away from the minimum binding point than it would be with only one of the ingredients.”

Economically, it is desirable to find that perfect synergy between salt and phosphates for maximum water retention at the lowest possible usage levels. Most industrial marinades contain 1 percent to 3 percent phosphate. This amount provides enough of the desired benefits without producing any off flavors, which is possible near USDA’s 0.5 percent maximum in the finished product. And because reducing sodium is on the top of everyone’s minds, keeping sodium content low is also desirable for manufacturers from a labeling perspective.

To do this, some marinades include sodium replacement systems, such as potassium chloride and potassium phosphates. These ingredients change the dynamics of the marinade, in particular, its influence on flavor and texture.

“In certain applications, such as reduced sodium or highly extended meat products, the texture of the resulting finished product suffers,” says Joseph Formanek, associate director-business development and application innovation, Ajinomoto North America Inc., Itasca, Ill. “We offer transglutaminase enzyme blends that can help build structure and texture.” Transglutaminase is a natural enzyme that crosslinks glutamine and lysine amino acids in the meat-protein structure, thereby allowing binding and firmness to develop.

“Eating quality is improved, as is slicing and further handling characteristics,” he says. “By itself, transglutaminase typically cannot deliver enhanced cook yield, but it can work well in concert with other ingredients, such as soy proteins, starches and gums, which are often included in marinades to enhance cook yields.”

Transglutaminase is allowed in a wide range of both standardized and unstandardized meat and poultry products at a level not to exceed 65ppm, with the exception of white-meat chicken, where it is allowed at a level of up to 100ppm, Formanek explains. “Typically, the ingredient is used at a much lower level. It can be added to the protein via the marinade and is simply labeled as ‘enzyme’ on ingredient statements.”

Masking ‘off’ flavors

Ron Ratz, director-protein development at St.Francis, Wis.-based Wixon, explains that many water, salt and phosphate marinades will also include ingredients to mask undesirable off-flavors that might arise from phosphates or other functional ingredients that are included in the formula.

“We offer a line of natural flavors that can be added to meat marinades,” Ratz says. “Not only are they designed to mask off-notes, they also can potentiate the natural savory notes of protein. Some of the ingredients function as natural antioxidants, contributing to product stability in a very label-friendly manner.”

Indeed, reading ingredient labels has become the norm for consumers. In order to address the growing demand for more natural meat products, scientists at the Univ. of Arkansas-Fayetteville investigated the replacement of phosphates with plum-derived ingredients, which have been shown to exert moisture-binding properties (The paper was published in the Journal of Food Science, Volume 77, Number 6, 2012).

“Plum ingredients are inherent sources of fiber [in the form of pectin] and sorbitol, approximately, 7.5 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Both components function as moisture binders,” says Jim Degen, a technical spokesperson for Sunsweet Growers, Walnut Creek, Calif. “The scientists demonstrated plum ingredients can effectively substitute for phosphates in poultry processing. In fact, when chicken breasts are processed using plum extract in a vacuum-tumbled marinating process, the amount of yield after cooking is about 1 percent greater compared to phosphate-containing brine.”

Their research showed that all plum products (plum fiber, plum powder, plum extract or a 1:1 mix plum fiber and plum powder) produced a more-tender chicken breast fillet than did the traditional phosphate mixture. Consumers found no difference in the plum treatments when compared to the phosphate control.

“In addition to their moisture-binding properties, plum ingredients also contain 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent malic acid, a natural-flavor potentiator that rounds out meat flavors, making them more savory and appealing,” Degen says. “Plum ingredients do this without imparting any flavor of their own. They also contain antioxidants that suppress growth of pathogens and control development of lipid oxidation. Thus, replacing phosphates with plum ingredients makes a lot of sense.”

Other meats can benefit from including plum ingredients. “Plum powder can be included in the dry-seasoning blends used in the tumble marinating of whole-muscle red meat and poultry, in meat rubs and when making sausages and other coarse ground-meat items,” Degen says. “This multi-functional ingredient raises the value of underutilized whole-muscle cuts by binding and holding moisture during processing and cooking. Usage levels range from 0.5 percent to 2.0 percent of the meat block or 10 percent to 30 percent of the brine for beef and lamb, and between 8 percent and 20 percent of the brine for pork. The finished meat product will contain less than 0.5 percent plum powder when tumbled for 22 to 26 minutes with a vacuum pressure of 23 pounds. Other plum ingredients can be used, with usage levels varying by ingredient and protein,” Degen explains.

USDA has issued “no objection” correspondence for using plum ingredients as a binder and as a natural flavor in raw, cooked and processed meat and poultry.

In conclusion, industrial marinades provide consumers and foodservice operators with quality, affordable and safe ready-to-cook protein products.