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Some recipes call for red wine vinegar in steak marinades.

Is the Red wine vinegar used as means to break down the meat tissue or is it just there as a flavor agent?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Any vinegar or lemon juice or any other acid it there for those two reasons. To soften the meat and to impart flavor.

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As a practical foodnote, the acid may reduce pathogens on the surface of the meat. –  BobMcGee Jul 11 '11 at 5:59
    
@Bob Could you expand on that statement? –  BaffledCook Jul 11 '11 at 13:10
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Sure. Depending on the acid content of the marinade (which might include both vinegar AND lemon juice), it could end up with a pH below 4, or even below 3. At pH 4.6 or under, most bacteria will not grow. Garlic also has anti-bacterial properties. Now, it all depends on the acid content of the recipe, and it's still not a good idea to reuse a marinade (which has touched raw meat). I'd have to run calculations to tell you what vinegar content is required for this pH. But still... it's interesting to think what food prepareation techniques may historically have food safety origins. –  BobMcGee Jul 11 '11 at 15:36
    
@Bob, I'm sorry I read your statement the other way around :( (produce instead of reduce). Of course you're right. –  BaffledCook Jul 12 '11 at 8:31
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