Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

This might sound like a queer question, but why do we marinade meat with acid / enzymes? Given that marinading doesn't tenderize meat, it just turns the outer fibers into mush and releases the juices when cooking? Why not just go with a flavored brine instead?

In other words: Why is it customary to use such marinades, and why is it commonly said that it tenderizes the meat?

Source Shirley Corriher:

At first, water molecules are attached to and trapped within this protein mesh, so the tissue remains juicy and tender. But after a short time, if the protein is in a very acidic marinade, the protein bonds tighten, water is squeezed out, and the tissue becomes tough. If you've ever tried marinating shrimp in highly acidic ingredients, it's likely that you're familiar with this result.


My experience with tenderizing enzymes mirrors that of Dr. Nicholas Kurti, a famous Oxford physicist who tried tenderizing a pork roast by injecting half with pineapple juice, leaving the other half untouched. A noted chef, Michel Roux, was to judge on television which side was better. After cooking, the half treated with pineapple was total mush and looked like a pile of stuffing. Not surprisingly, Chef Roux preferred the untreated half.

share|improve this question
A lot of marinades aren't highly acidic, and don't have a bunch of tenderizing enzymes. I changed your title assuming you're not asking about those. – Jefromi Jan 21 '12 at 15:32
@Jefromi Online dictionaries state that a marinade is 'a liquid ... usually acidic', so thanks for that :) – Max Jan 21 '12 at 16:17
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Hardly a queer question. We marinate in acidic liquids because it tastes good, really. As Alton Brown said in the Good Eats episode, "Raising The Steaks":

"Acid doesn't tenderize meat nearly as well as enzymes. But acids can help you tenderize your own food. That's because acids taste tangy, and tangy tastes tell our saliva glands to do their stuff, and saliva is full of enzymes."

As that same episode shows, we generally don't marinate in enzymes, as it would turn meat to mush, and not in a good way.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.