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Chefs and scientists, anyone know how much sugar penetrates and remains in meat from a sugar cure or brine?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created May 01, 2011 at 5:08 PM

So, this question was conceived based on a question about bacon, but I am now asking it as a different and more generalized question.

Salt and sugar have been used as effective preservatives for ages. When I make gravlax at home I use a roughly half salt, half sugar "cure", essentially packing the salmon in a fairly dry half, salt half sugar mixture, used to draw the water out of the flesh of the fish. So, the liquid comes out of the salmon and presto you've got gravlax. I use about 50% sugar because it draws out water at a slower rate, meaning I end up with a softer, nicer texture than if i just used salt. When the fish is ready, the cure is completely washed off and gravlax is good to go. Bacon is made in a similar way as are some other things. I have 4 pork livers in my fridge right now that I am curing like this, then hanging in a pepper rub for a few weeks (we'll see how those come out, this is a new one for me).

If I cook a turkey or even a pork chop, I like to brine it first. Brining involves soaking meat in a water solution, and sometimes sugar is used in it too. Brining seems like it has the potential for the meat to absorb more sugar than curing.

So, my question is, does anyone know how much actual sugar typically gets into the meat as a measurable amount through dry curing and/or brining?

(I would think it's very little, but it occurred to me that I don't really know.)

0607529af9b78bb5b178f7ffabdc4693

(701)

on February 13, 2012
at 09:49 PM

On Food and Cooking is the bomb.

2b2c2e4aa87e9aa4c99cae48e980f70d

(1059)

on November 05, 2011
at 07:46 AM

Tartare, be sure to make separate provisions for gravy as the drippings from a brined bird tend to be too salty. I buy separate wings and/or drumsticks and roast them untl golden and make gravy from those drippings. The nice thing is you can make the gravy in advance.

Bfa1c9eacfc94a1b62f3a39b574480c6

(3700)

on October 19, 2011
at 05:46 PM

Ah, yes caramelization. On pork-butt is pretty amazin'.

Medium avatar

(5136)

on October 19, 2011
at 04:48 PM

it was really more curiosity about the process for me, if I do a turkey this year, I'll be brining it for sure.

24df4e0d0e7ce98963d4641fae1a60e5

on October 19, 2011
at 11:20 AM

It's my understanding that the ultimate purpose of sugar when brining the turkey is to brown the skin. I don't have a reference handy but I looked into this in depth a couple years ago for a discussion on an LC board. The sugar doesn't diffuse in.

Aead76beb5fc7b762a6b4ddc234f6051

(15239)

on May 01, 2011
at 07:21 PM

i feel the same way. i know i cant hunt, so desperately looking for some duck and deer hunters to become BFFs with. ps. its fiddlehead season!! hooray!

Medium avatar

(5136)

on May 01, 2011
at 06:13 PM

yup. i'm a gal who LOVES to eat... really thats why i like to cook. Hunter Angler Gardner Cook is so awesome. he's my hero. He also makes me want to take up hunting, though I wouldnt know where to start! Thanks akd! I feel like if everyone loved food as much as we did, people would be a lot healthier in this country. I don't get the addiction to SAD, I feel like food can be so much more delicious than that!

Aead76beb5fc7b762a6b4ddc234f6051

(15239)

on May 01, 2011
at 06:06 PM

have i mentioned that i love how much you love food? a woman (?) after my own heart. have you ever read the "hunter gardener angler cook" blog?

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3 Answers

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1
Bfa1c9eacfc94a1b62f3a39b574480c6

(3700)

on October 19, 2011
at 06:10 AM

A good reference for this kind of thing would be Harold Mcgee's "On Food and Cooking," or Alton Brown.

From what I've read from "On Food and Cooking," Good Eats, and Cook's Illustrated, it really comes down to the time the particular piece of meat has been bathing in the brine for. Salt acts via osmosis and concentration gradients, and sugar is very hygroscopic (water-loving/absorbing.)

Salt destroys the structure of muscle filaments, hence making the brined Thanksgiving turkey wonderfully moist and tender. Furthermore, salt draws water out of the meat via osmosis, and then salt and water both are reabsorbed by the meat via diffusion. At some point, the higher concentration of salt inside the meat will allow the salt-water absorbing capacity of the meat to increase, thus uptaking all those delicious molecules of brine (whether it be sugar or rosemary/thyme, etc. etc.)

When cooked, meat protein naturally loses moisture, but because of the 10%-20% increase of moisture due to brining, the loss of tenderness is minimal at best. Furthermore the aforementioned disruption of muscle filaments makes the aggregation of muscle fibers less pronounced, causing...more tender meat.

As for the original question. Brining it will give you tender, saltier, slightly sweeter meat, but it's definitely not the same as taking heavily salted or sugary shots. Unless you are truly sensitive, it technically should be negligible. Corn starch or modified cornstarch though, is a completely different story.

24df4e0d0e7ce98963d4641fae1a60e5

on October 19, 2011
at 11:20 AM

It's my understanding that the ultimate purpose of sugar when brining the turkey is to brown the skin. I don't have a reference handy but I looked into this in depth a couple years ago for a discussion on an LC board. The sugar doesn't diffuse in.

Bfa1c9eacfc94a1b62f3a39b574480c6

(3700)

on October 19, 2011
at 05:46 PM

Ah, yes caramelization. On pork-butt is pretty amazin'.

0607529af9b78bb5b178f7ffabdc4693

(701)

on February 13, 2012
at 09:49 PM

On Food and Cooking is the bomb.

2
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on May 01, 2011
at 05:50 PM

The nutritional data of the sugar cured bacon in my fridge claims to have 0g carbohydrates. If we dare assume a marginal level of competency in government and industry, then we can speculate that very little sugar remains after the process.

I do know that "calorie-free" sweeteners often have ~5 calories and can still be marketed as such. So, maybe not zero as claimed, but perhaps close enough.

0
2b2c2e4aa87e9aa4c99cae48e980f70d

(1059)

on October 19, 2011
at 04:44 PM

Good question, and quite timely since Thanksgiving is right around the corner. My favorite turkey recipe uses an apple cider brine.

Brining works by process of osmosis which pulls salts into the cells in am attempt to balance salinity inside and ouside. The question is whether any added sugars get pulled in along with the salt? Who knows.

I think I won't worry about it, however, ans stay away from overly sweetened brines.

Medium avatar

(5136)

on October 19, 2011
at 04:48 PM

it was really more curiosity about the process for me, if I do a turkey this year, I'll be brining it for sure.

2b2c2e4aa87e9aa4c99cae48e980f70d

(1059)

on November 05, 2011
at 07:46 AM

Tartare, be sure to make separate provisions for gravy as the drippings from a brined bird tend to be too salty. I buy separate wings and/or drumsticks and roast them untl golden and make gravy from those drippings. The nice thing is you can make the gravy in advance.

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