Saucy Science: Exploring the Science of Marinades
Have you ever tasted a delicious burger and wondered how it got so much flavor? Maybe you have heard your family talk about marinating foods before cooking or grilling them. A marinade is a mixture of seasonings used to flavor or tenderize food. Most cooks have strong opinions about the best way to marinate their favorite food, be it a large steak or a tofu burger. In this activity, you will do a test to see what factors might be most important in making a marinade stick to the surface of food. After doing this activity, you could use your findings to help you make tastier food for an Independence Day BBQ!
This activity is not appropriate for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.
Every culture has its own unique way of preparing food. But whether it’s Chinese or American, Italian or Indian, some of the main dishes usually call for a marinade. Some of the original marinades from several centuries ago were briny (very salty) liquids, like seawater. Whatever they are made of, marinades are usually meant to preserve, tenderize and flavor foods.
In this activity, you’ll test how various ingredients affect the adsorption (yes, with a “d”) of a marinade ingredient onto the surface of a food. The word “adsorb” is used to describe the process by which a substance adheres to the surface of an object, as opposed to being absorbed into it. The ingredients you’ll test are salt, vinegar and sugar. Salt obviously makes foods salty, and sugar makes them sweet, but how well do these ingredients work for making a marinade be adsorbed to food? Vinegar is an acid – other acids you might find around the kitchen include lemon juice and orange juice. Does something acidic make a good marinade? Along with these ingredients, instead of actual seasoned marinades you’ll use a food dye so you can see the level of adsorption on the food.
Extra: There are many variables that you could try changing in this activity, such as what type of food you test, the amount of time the tofu cubes are marinated for, the temperature they’re marinated at and the concentration of the ingredients tested. (If you use chicken breast or other meat, be sure to wash everything that comes into contact with the raw meat as raw chicken might have Salmonella bacteria.) When exploring other variables, be sure to only change one at a time, keeping everything else the same. How well do the tofu cubes become dyed when marinated for a longer amount of time, at a different temperature or with a different concentration of ingredients?
Extra: Some marinades have vegetable or olive oil in them. What happens if you mix oil in with the marinade?
Extra: You could cut the tofu cubes with a knife after they are done marinating to look at the inside of the cubes. How far has the dye been absorbed into the cubes from the different cups?
Observations and Results
Did the tofu cubes in the cup with the vinegar become the most dyed? Were the other tofu cubes less dyed, and all dyed similarly to each other?
You should have seen that the tofu cubes that were marinated in the cup with the vinegar (and water and food dye) clearly become the most dyed – or adsorbed the dye the best – compared to any of the other tofu cubes. Vinegar is an acid, like lemon juice and orange juice. Acids can cause foods, like meats, to be broken down, or tenderized. (You may have seen people warn not to use too much vinegar in a marinade – this is because the acid can tenderize the food so much that it becomes mushy!) When vinegar is used in a marinade, as the vinegar breaks down the surface of the food, the vinegar lets the marinade be adsorbed there. Salt works well in marinades for meat because the salt helps break open the cells, allowing the marinade to penetrate into the tissue. Sugar in marinades helps the food taste sweet, but this ingredient does not help marinades be adsorbed into food as much.
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Teisha Rowland, PhD, Science Buddies
Science Buddies |
Cooking, marinades, BBQ, acids
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