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what is a marinade

What is a marinade? 10 super flavourful facts to know

The secret weapon in your kitchen could be sitting unused: marinade! This simple flavour bath imbues food with deliciousness, tenderizes tougher cuts, and keeps things moist. From juicy steaks to vibrant veggies, marinades can transform any dish.

In this article “What is a marinade”, we’ll dive into the magical world of marinades and explore how to create restaurant-worthy meals right at home!

Key Takeaways

  • Marinades tenderize and infuse flavour: The acidic component breaks down tough muscle fibres, while the other ingredients add layers of deliciousness.
  • Choose the right marinade for the ingredient: Consider the thickness and type of food to ensure optimal results.
  • Marinating times vary: Thinner cuts require less time than thicker cuts to avoid becoming mushy.
  • Don’t reuse marinade for safety reasons: Raw meat can harbour bacteria that can transfer to the marinade. Discard it after use.
  • Get creative with flavours: Explore global cuisines, vegetarian options, and unexpected flavour pairings.
  • Leftover marinade can be repurposed: Use it as a basting sauce, pan sauce base, or vegetable glaze.
  • Marinating is easy and rewarding: With some planning and these tips, you can elevate your home cooking to new heights.

What is a Marinade?

A marinade is a flavourful liquid mixture in which food is submerged for some time. It typically consists of an acidic base, fat or oil, aromatics and spices, and sometimes sweeteners. The magic happens through a combination of science and flavour.

The Benefits are Bountiful

Marinating offers a multitude of benefits that go beyond just adding flavour. Here are some key reasons to incorporate marinades into your cooking routine:

  • Flavour Infusion: Marinades act as flavour carriers, allowing the ingredients to permeate the food and infuse it with deliciousness. This is especially beneficial for bland proteins like chicken breasts or lean cuts of meat.
  • Tenderizing Tough Cuts: The acidic component in marinades (like citrus juices, vinegar, or yoghurt) helps break down tough muscle fibres, resulting in a noticeably more tender and enjoyable eating experience. This is particularly useful for tougher cuts of meat like flank steak or pork shoulder.
  • Moisture Retention: Marinades with oil or fat coat the food, creating a barrier that helps retain moisture during cooking. This prevents your food from drying out and becoming tough, ensuring juicy and flavourful results.
  • Enhanced Browning: Marinades containing sugars can promote caramelization during cooking, creating a beautifully browned exterior on your food. This adds not only visual appeal but also additional layers of flavour.

Tailoring the flavour bath

The beauty of marinades lies in their versatility. You can create a symphony of flavours to suit any dish or cuisine. Here’s a glimpse into the diverse world of marinades:

  • Acidic Marinades: These are the most common type, relying on the tenderizing and flavour-enhancing properties of acids like citrus juices, vinegar, or yoghurt. Think of classic Italian marinades with olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs for chicken or fish.
  • Enzymatic Marinades: These utilize enzymes naturally in ingredients like pineapple or papaya to break down protein, resulting in exceptionally tender meat. Think of Caribbean jerk marinades featuring pineapple and fiery peppers.
  • Oil-Based Marinades: These focus on flavour infusion and moisture retention, often used in Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cuisines. Think of flavourful Moroccan marinades with olive oil, garlic, and warm spices like cumin and coriander.

What is the purpose of a marinade?

Marinades are a secret weapon for tastier and more enjoyable meat dishes. They serve a two-fold purpose: tenderizing and flavouring. The acidic components, like vinegar, citrus juices, or yoghurt, act like microscopic knives, breaking down tough muscle fibres in the meat. 

This results in a noticeably softer and more pleasurable chewing experience. Additionally, marinades act as flavour carriers. Herbs, spices, and other seasonings infuse the meat, permeating its surface and leaving you with a burst of deliciousness in every bite. So next time you’re grilling, consider giving your meat a marinade bath for a juicy and flavourful win!

What is a marinade vs sauce?


  • Purpose: Tenderize and infuse flavour.
  • Ingredients: Acids (vinegar, citrus juice, yoghurt), oil (olive oil, vegetable oil), herbs, spices, and other seasonings.
  • Application: Meat, seafood, and sometimes vegetables are submerged in the marinade for an extended period (30 minutes to overnight) to allow the flavours to penetrate.
  • Cooking: Marinades are not typically cooked themselves. You discard the marinade before cooking the meat to avoid contamination from raw ingredients.


  • Purpose: Enhance flavour and add moisture during cooking.
  • Ingredients: Can vary widely, but often include a base (broth, stock, tomato sauce), thickeners (cornstarch, flour), sweeteners (sugar, honey), and seasonings.
  • Application: Sauces are typically added to dishes during the cooking process, allowing them to simmer and reduce, concentrating the flavours. They can also be used as a finishing touch or dipping sauce.
  • Cooking: Sauces are cooked along with the food, becoming part of the final dish.

How Long Should You Marinate? 

Marinating time is all about achieving the perfect balance between tenderizing and flavour infusion without making your food mushy. Here’s a quick guide for different ingredients:


  • Tough cuts (beef chuck roast, pork shoulder): 6-24 hours. The longer marinating time allows acids to break down tough muscle fibres for maximum tenderness.
  • Thinner cuts (chicken breasts, pork tenderloin): 2-6 hours. These cuts are naturally more tender, so over-marination can lead to a dry or mushy texture.


  • Bone-in chicken (whole chicken, thighs, drumsticks): 2-4 hours. The bone acts as a barrier, so slightly longer marinating is needed.
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts: 30 minutes to 2 hours. Shorter marinating prevents them from drying out.


  • Fish fillets: 30 minutes to 1 hour. Seafood is very delicate and can become rubbery if marinated for too long.
  • Shrimp, prawns, scallops: 30 minutes or less. Similar to fish, over-marination can make them tough.


  • Sturdy vegetables (broccoli, carrots): 30 minutes to 1 hour. Marinades can add flavour without drastically altering the texture.
  • Softer vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms): 15-30 minutes. These vegetables absorb flavours quickly and can become limp if marinated for too long.

Paneer and Tofu:

  • Paneer and Tofu: 30 minutes to 2 hours. Both absorb flavours well, but longer marinating won’t significantly improve tenderness.

What is a Marinade & how to prepare it?

Let’s explore the art of marinating itself! This section will equip you with the knowledge and techniques to ensure your marinades work their magic effectively.

Marinades work best with certain ingredients. Let’s explore how marinade effectiveness varies:

  • Meat: Marinades are particularly beneficial for tougher cuts of meat like flank steak, pork shoulder, or chicken breasts. The acidity helps break down muscle fibres, resulting in a more tender and flavourful experience. Thinner cuts like steaks or fish fillets benefit from shorter marinating times to avoid becoming mushy.
  • Protein Alternatives: Tofu, tempeh, and seitan readily absorb marinade flavours, making them excellent candidates. Marinades can add depth and complexity to these plant-based proteins.
  • Vegetables: While vegetables don’t require tenderizing, marinades can add flavour and moisture. However, be mindful of marinating time. Denser vegetables like carrots or bell peppers can handle longer marinades, while delicate greens like spinach may become limp.

The Time is Right: A Guide to Marinating Times

Marinating times can vary depending on the thickness of the ingredient and the desired level of flavour infusion. Here’s a general guide:

  • Thin Cuts (fish, chicken breasts): 30 minutes to 2 hours
  • Medium Cuts (steaks, pork chops): 2-4 hours
  • Thick Cuts (roasts, whole chicken): 4-8 hours, or overnight for maximum impact

Remember, marinating for too long can have the opposite effect, making your food mushy. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and marinate for a shorter time.

Don’t Reuse the Marinade! Food Safety First

This is a crucial point to remember for safety reasons. Raw meat, poultry, and seafood can harbour harmful bacteria. During marinating, these bacteria can transfer to the marinade. Reusing the marinade after it has been in contact with raw ingredients can lead to foodborne illness.

Discard the used marinade after removing the food, and never baste cooked food with leftover marinade unless you bring it to a boil first to kill any bacteria.

Maximizing Flavour Beyond the Soak

Don’t let the leftover marinade go to waste! Here are some ways to incorporate it into your cooking:

  • Basting Sauce: Strain the marinade and reduce it in a saucepan to concentrate the flavours. Use it as a basting sauce during grilling or pan-frying for added flavour and moisture.
  • Sauce Inspiration: Use the leftover marinade as a base for a sauce to accompany your dish. Add ingredients like broth, cream, or soy sauce to create a flavourful pan sauce.
  • Vegetable Glaze: For marinades used for vegetables, reduce the leftover liquid and use it as a glaze to brush on vegetables during roasting for an extra flavour boost.

Creative Marinades

Now that you’ve grasped the fundamentals, let’s explore the exciting world of creative marinades!

Marinades offer a passport to explore the flavours of the world. Here are some inspirational examples:

  • Asian Adventure: Marinate chicken in a blend of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and a touch of honey for a classic Asian-inspired dish. For a bolder kick, try a Korean-style marinade with gochujang (Korean chilli paste), rice vinegar, and sesame seeds.
  • Latin Fiesta: Limes, cilantro, cumin, and chilli powder create a vibrant marinade perfect for chicken fajitas or skirt steak. For a smoky twist, add a chipotle pepper in adobo sauce to the marinade.
  • Mediterranean Escape: Olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, and sun-dried tomatoes create a marinade that evokes the flavours of the Mediterranean. Use it for lamb chops, chicken breasts, or even seafood.

Vegetarian Delights: Plant-Based Flavour Bombs

Marinades aren’t just for meat! Here are some ideas to elevate vegetarian dishes:

  • Tofu Transformation: Marinate tofu in a mixture of tamari (soy sauce), maple syrup, ginger, and sriracha for a sweet and spicy kick.
  • Tempeh Twist: Tempeh readily absorbs flavours. Try a marinade with miso paste, mirin (sweet rice wine), sake, and ginger for a Japanese-inspired twist.
  • Vegetable Vibrancy: Vegetables like portobello mushrooms, bell peppers, or eggplant come alive with a marinade. A simple mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Italian herbs, and garlic adds depth and complexity.

Sweet and savoury Adventures: Unexpected flavour Pairings

Don’t be afraid to experiment with unique flavour combinations!

  • Fruits for the Win: Fruits like pineapple (enzymatic marinade), mango, or even kiwi can add a touch of sweetness and acidity to marinades, especially for chicken or fish.
  • Spicy and Sweet: Balance the heat of chilli peppers with a touch of honey or brown sugar for a sweet and spicy marinade that tantalizes the taste buds.
  • Smoky Delights: Smoked paprika, chipotle peppers, or even liquid smoke can add a smoky depth to marinades, perfect for both meat and vegetarian dishes.

By venturing beyond the basics and exploring these creative ideas, you can unlock a world of flavour possibilities and transform even the simplest ingredients into culinary masterpieces!

5 Global Marinades to Take Your Dishes Around the World

  1. Tandoori Marinade (India): yoghurt, lemon juice, ginger-garlic paste, garam masala (warm spice blend), and a touch of red chilli powder create a vibrant and flavourful marinade perfect for chicken, paneer, or tofu. This marinade tenderizes while infusing a hint of smokiness and a symphony of warm Indian spices.
  2. Moroccan Chermoula Marinade (North Africa): Fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, and mint take centre stage in this bright and citrusy marinade. Olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, and paprika add depth and complexity. Use chermoula to marinate chicken, fish, or even vegetables for a taste of Morocco.
  3. Korean Bulgogi Marinade (South Korea): Soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, and Korean gochujang (chilli paste) create a sweet, savoury, and slightly spicy marinade ideal for thinly sliced beef. Bulgogi marinades not only tenderize but also caramelize slightly during cooking, delivering a delicious and sticky texture.
  4. Citrus Mojo Marinade (Latin America): A simple yet impactful marinade using fresh citrus juices (lime or orange), olive oil, garlic, cumin, and oregano. This versatile marinade complements various proteins like chicken, fish, or shrimp, adding a burst of freshness and Latin flair.
  5. Greek yoghurt Marinade (Mediterranean): Tangy Greek yoghurt acts as a tenderizer in this marinade, joined by olive oil, lemon juice, fresh dill, garlic, and oregano. Perfect for chicken breasts, lamb chops, or even vegetables, this marinade delivers a cool and refreshing taste with a touch of Mediterranean charm.

There are some specialized Indian marinades as well:

1. Yoghurt-Based Marinades

Tandoori Marinade:

  • Ingredients: Yoghurt, ginger-garlic paste, turmeric, cumin, coriander, garam masala, red chilli powder, salt, and lemon juice.
  • Usage: Commonly used for tandoori chicken, fish, and paneer. The yoghurt tenderises the meat, while the spices impart a deep, smoky flavour.

2. Spice-Based Marinades

Masala Marinade:

  • Ingredients: Ground spices (coriander, cumin, turmeric, garam masala), ginger-garlic paste, oil, salt, and lemon juice.
  • Usage: Ideal for marinating chicken, lamb, or vegetables. This marinade creates a robust and spicy flavour profile.

3. Vinegar-Based Marinades

Vindaloo Marinade:

  • Ingredients: Vinegar, garlic, ginger, mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, dried red chillies, turmeric, and salt.
  • Usage: Traditionally used for pork, but also excellent for chicken and lamb. The vinegar provides a tangy base, while the spices add heat and depth.

4. Coconut Milk-Based Marinades

Kerala Style Marinade:

  • Ingredients: Coconut milk, ginger, garlic, green chillies, curry leaves, turmeric, and salt.
  • Usage: Often used for seafood like fish and prawns. The coconut milk lends a creamy texture and mild sweetness.

5. Mustard-Based Marinades

Bengali Mustard Marinade:

  • Ingredients: Mustard paste, yoghurt, turmeric, green chillies, and salt.
  • Usage: Typically used for fish, especially hilsa. The mustard provides a sharp, pungent flavour.

6. Herb-Based Marinades

Green Marinade:

  • Ingredients: Coriander leaves, mint leaves, green chillies, ginger, garlic, yoghurt, and salt.
  • Usage: Suitable for chicken, fish, and paneer. This marinade is fresh and aromatic, with a herbaceous flavour.

Common Marinating Issues 

Even the most seasoned cooks encounter occasional challenges. Here’s how to address some common marinating issues:

 My Meat is Too Tough!

There could be a few reasons for this:

  • Wrong Cut: Did you choose a cut that benefits from marinating? Tougher cuts like flank steak or pork shoulder respond best. Thinner cuts like fillets may become mushy with extended marinating.
  • Marinating Time: Did you marinate for too long? Marinating times are crucial. Refer back to the guide in Section III.B to ensure you are marinated for the appropriate time.


  • Choose the right cut: Select cuts that benefit from tenderizing.
  • Marinating Time Management: Stick to the recommended marinating times. If unsure, err on the side of less time, especially for thinner cuts.

My Marinade Isn’t Flavourful Enough.

Here’s how to crank up the flavour:

  • Acidity Boost: Is your marinade acidic enough? The acid helps tenderize and carry flavours. Citrus juices, vinegar, or yoghurt can add a flavour punch.
  • Spice it Up: Did you use enough spices and aromatics? Don’t be shy! Experiment with different spice blends or add fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, or oregano.
  • Fat Factor: Fat helps carry flavours. Did you include enough oil in your marinade? Olive oil, vegetable oil, or even sesame oil can enhance flavour.


  • Adjust the acid level: Add more citrus juice, vinegar, or yoghurt to taste.
  • Spice Exploration: Experiment with bolder spice combinations or fresh herbs.
  • Fat Matters: Ensure your marinade has enough oil to carry the flavours.


Marinades are a culinary superpower, transforming even the simplest ingredients into flavourful and tender masterpieces. From juicy steaks to vibrant veggies, marinades offer a world of flavour exploration right at home.

This guide has equipped you with the knowledge and techniques to create restaurant-worthy marinades. Remember, the key lies in understanding the essential ingredients and how they work together. Experiment with different flavour profiles to discover what tantalizes your taste buds.


What is the purpose of a marinade?

The purpose of marinating is to add flavour and, in some cases, tenderize meat, chicken, and fish. Marinades can even be used on some veggies, including eggplant, zucchini, and artichoke. In this guide, you’ll discover the key to successful marinating.

What is in a marinate?

A typical marinade is made up of three essential components: an acid (such as vinegar, wine, or citrus), an oil (such as olive oil or sesame oil), and a flavouring agent (such as herbs and spices). These elements work together to transform the taste and texture of your dish in different ways.

What is a marinade excatly?

A marinade is a sauce of oil, vinegar, spices, and herbs, which you pour over meat or fish before you cook it, in order to add flavour or to make the meat or fish softer. 2. verb. To marinade means the same as to marinate.

Is marinade good for health?

Is marinating your food good for your health? To the surprise of many, marinades are beneficial to your health for several reasons. One major benefit of marinating your meat is that marinades can reduce HCAs by as much as 99%, according to the American Cancer Research Institute.

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