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I saw the host on a cooking show claim that using seltzer in a marinade will help the flavors better penetrate meat via the carbonation. Is there any truth to this, and how would it actually work? e.g. would the bubbles carry bits of flavor material, or somehow open "pores" in the meat...?

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Interesting claim; I know that seltzer is used to aerate certain sauces and batters and thus lighten them, but I don't think I've ever heard of it being used to improve a marinade. Google turned up one or two "explanations" of this process but they sound a little like pseudoscience. Mind my asking which TV chef said this? –  Aaronut Feb 19 '11 at 14:42
    
I believe it was "Star Kitchen" on TVB. –  Greg Harman Feb 19 '11 at 15:13
    
Susur Lee did a sweet and sour pork marinated with Sprite at his eponymous restaurant in Toronto and it was super tender and delicious. No idea of the food science behind it though. –  Allison Feb 19 '11 at 22:19
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I make chicken adobo pretty regularly, and my friend's Filipino mom introduced me to her "secret" ingredient, a half can of Sprite. The one time I didn't have any on hand, I adjusted for the sugar content, and it was good, but the final product wasn't the same. Like Allison, I'm not sure what's happening, just adding to the discussion :) –  stephennmcdonald Feb 21 '11 at 20:04

2 Answers 2

I have not seen a recipe that contains seltzer , but I would imagine that it is the same reaction that MSG has in Asian cooking, where restaurants can use cheap cuts and tenderizes the meat before cooking. Most MSG is banned in restaurants now. I myself have used coca cola in marinades in meats like ribs and pork belly as the acids does the same thing to the meat tendons as well as giving sweetness to the meat.

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Coca Cola is really acidic in addition to being sweet, so I'd say any tenderization that happens is probably because of that rather than the bubbles (which, come to think of it, is probably what's happening with the seltzer, which is also acidic). –  bikeboy389 Feb 21 '11 at 15:55
    
MMMM.... this reminds me of root beer in a slow cooker with pork. yummey. –  Zombies Feb 21 '11 at 16:01
    
In other words, it's basically an expensive an inefficient version of vinegar? (Coca Cola is obviously flavourful as @bikeboy says but plain seltzer water is just going to be very weak carbonic acid). –  Aaronut Feb 21 '11 at 16:48
    
@aaronut I certainly can't think of anything else it would be bringing to the party. –  bikeboy389 Feb 21 '11 at 19:02
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I suppose the way to test this would be to try a recipe with flat coke (and some with fresh, carbonated coke as a control) and see if the flat coke produces the same result. –  Greg Harman Feb 21 '11 at 21:58

I would strongly doubt that the bubbles themselves would have any mechanical effect on flavor. However, seltzer or soda water has a acidic pH, usually between tomato and orange juice. This could account for any tenderizing action. The addition of salts to some seltzers might also account for apparent changes in flavor.

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