In food processing, brining is treating food with brine or coarse salt which preserves and seasons the food while enhancing tenderness and flavor with additions such as herbs, spices, sugar, caramel or vinegar. Meat and fish are typically brined for less than twenty-four hours while vegetables, cheeses and fruit are brined in a much longer process known as pickling. Brining is similar to marination, except that a marinade usually includes a significant amount of acid, such as vinegar or citrus juice. Brining is also similar to curing, which usually involves significantly drying the food, and is done over a much longer time period.
Brining is typically a process in which meat is soaked in a salt water solution similar to marination before cooking. Meat is soaked anywhere from 30 minutes to several days. The amount of time needed to brine depends on the size of the meat: more time is needed for a large turkey compared to a broiler fryer chicken. Similarly, a large roast must be brined longer than a thin cut of meat.
Brining can also be achieved by covering the meat in dry coarse salt and left to rest for several hours. The salt draws moisture from the interior of the meat to the surface, where it mixes with the salt and is then reabsorbed with the salt essentially brining the meat in its own juices. The salt rub is then rinsed off and discarded before cooking.
Food scientists have two theories about the brining effect, but which one is correct is still under debate.
As opposed to dry salting, fish brining or wet-salting is performed by immersion of fish into brine, or just sprinkling it with salt without draining the moisture. To ensure long-term preservation, the solution has to contain at least 20% of salt, a process called "heavy salting" in fisheries; heavy-salted fish must be desalted in cold water or milk before consumption. If less salt is used, the fish is suited for immediate consumption, but additional refrigeration is necessary for longer preservation.
Wet-salting is used for preparation of:
Main article: Pickling
Pickled vegetables are immersed in brine, vinegar or vinaigrette for extended periods of time, where they undergo anaerobic fermentation which affects their texture and flavor. Pickling can preserve perishable foods for months. Antimicrobial herbs and spices, such as mustard seed, garlic, cinnamon or cloves, are often added. Unlike the canning process, pickling (which includes fermentation) does not require that the food be completely sterile before it is sealed. The acidity or salinity of the solution, the temperature of fermentation, and the exclusion of oxygen determine which microorganisms dominate, and determine the flavor of the end product.
Brine is used in two ways in cheese production: