Marinating is the process we use to add more flavor to our food or to tenderize its texture. This process of soaking foods in a seasoned liquid before cooking can last seconds or days; and in different cuisines, we use different ingredients that go from vinegar, lemon juice, wine, beer (acidic liquid) to pineapple, ginger (enzymatic liquid), oil, garlic, herbs, spices, and other flavorings.
Besides good taste and squishy slices of meat, there is one more role that is much more important for us and it is regarding our health.
You might have heard about a thing called “PAHs”. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
PAHs are a class of organic compounds, products of incomplete combustion of organic matter at high temperatures, naturally emitted by forest fires and volcanic eruptions, but can also be found in cigarette and wood smoke and car exhaust fumes. Roasted, fried, smoked, or grilled meat (muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, and poultry) also contains high concentrations of these chemicals, while raw meat has it minimal.
PAHs are formed when juices and fat from meat, grilled directly over an open fire, dripping onto the burning charcoal cause flames. These flames now contain PAHs that further evaporate and adhere to the surface of the meat above.
What makes PAHs so harmful?
Exposure to PAHs has been linked to cardiovascular and reproductive diseases as well as melanoma, lung, bladder, prostate, liver, and stomach cancers in well-established animal model studies. Its metabolites react with DNA causing mutagenesis that can lead to cancer. It has been found that there is a higher incidence of gastric cancer among Icelandic people who consume plenty of smoked products in their diet.
However, it is possible to reduce the production of these toxic chemicals in our everyday diet. According to research, it is found that acidic marinades with lemon juice, as well as marinades with dark beer or wine may lower concentrations of PAHs in grilled meat by about 90%! These also help to minimize the number of other carcinogens, formed in the meat while cooking, called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Other components such as vegetable oil and garlic also have a beneficial impact. Researchers believe that this could be due to the high antioxidant power of these ingredients.
So, if you are planning to throw a BBQ party this weekend, you better marinate!