I always thought, that only salt is able to penetrate deep into the meat.

However, there are many brine recipes, calling for additional falvors to be added.

How can they penetrate the meat, if only salt can penetrate the meat?

I also recently found the following question: How deeply will the flavors in a brine penetrate chicken?

The answer argues, that some flavours can indeed penetrate the meat, however food color can not.

So which one is it, is marinade a surface treatment only, or do other ingredients apart from salt also penetrate the meat, and if yes which ones?

2 Answers 2


Good Eats describes what happens in a brine very well

Essentially, the thing that penetrates the meat is water. Because water is a solvent it can carry things with it into the meat. Salt and sugar are the two most common ingredients in a brine. Salt is required and sugar dissolves really easily in water and adds complexity to the flavor profile. But you can add anything that will be carried by the water into the meat. If your brine isn't penetrating your meat past the surface you aren't doing it right.

  • So anything that is water soluble? I thought it is about particle size? Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 15:00
  • @user1721135 I don't believe particle size has anything to do with it. It is about osmosis.
    – Summer
    Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 15:05
  • Right because it is osmosis, water does not carry anything. What is important is the concentration of x at the two sides of a membrane plus the fact that x should be able to pass through the membrane diving the two sides. Brine extracts water from the inner of the cells, typical example might be that of cucumbers releasing a lot of vegetation water. Though meat are not living cells, and so I am not sure if marinating is truly a bulk process. From a chemical physical pov, the pressure exerted by osmosis could even disrupt the membrane. This answer contains some imprecisions. Interesting issue.
    – Alchimista
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 9:58
  • Different is for what can reach the inner through interstices. But won't be osmosis, just diffusion of ions and eventually molecules. The article cited in A by @Mike TC, though it contains funny statements too, goes in my opinion to the point.
    – Alchimista
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 10:06

I have tried many different marinates, and found that they do not penetrate the meat, it's only surface treatment. The only thing that really penetrates the meat is salt. So after that, I only dry brine meat in salt and pepper (typically 1 teaspoon per 500g of meat.), let sit overnight to let the brine do it's work.

When I cook the meat, if it's a roast, I apply marinade to the meat towards the end of the cooking, to add to it's flavour. I find that, meats taste much better, flavour and texture wise, if it is dry brined a day ahead.

Here is a link to an article that explains this in great detail.

  • 1
    Why the pepper? Wouldn't it make more sense to put it in the end with the rest of the seasonings? Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 11:22
  • Salt N Pepper, it's a pair, it's hard to leave the salt alone without pepper. hahaha. It's just a preference, no explanation for it. believe me, not marinating the meat with other herbs and spices is already a big step for me. Try just the salt once. and then try salt and pepper the next time, let us know what you think works best for you. I typically put 1 part salt, and 1 part pepper for my dry brines.
    – Mike TC
    Commented Jun 9, 2019 at 11:56
  • 2
    I would like to add that marinating might also have historical reason. Imagine to make chicken without fridge. Either you cook all, or you protect the left one by letting it in marinade. The one night marinating prescription arises from nothing. It is common in many procedures, not only about food.
    – Alchimista
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 10:14

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