Consumers and diners are demanding poultry products and dishes that are alive with flavor and feature that “something different” when compared to traditional poultry fare. And some consumers are on the hunt for robust, new flavors in healthier alternatives. To reach these ends, some newer retail and foodservice poultry products are being marinated to enhance flavor.

“Marinades are very common; almost all items have some marinade because it promotes flavor and juiciness in poultry products,” says Worth Sparkman, Tyson Foods spokesman. “We’ve also found products are more resilient and not as prone to being over-cooked.”

Retail and foodservice markets in the US are alive with products featuring marinated chicken. At retail, Pollo Asado Grilled Chicken Leg Meat, Del Real Foods, Mira Loma, Calif., which is marinated in a citrus blend for a “moist and flavorful” chicken entrée, was recently launched. In March, GNP Co.’s Just BARE chicken, based in St. Cloud, Minn., expanded its line of antibiotic-free products to the deli and frozen retail categories. For the deli, Just BARE now offers marinated poultry with 8 percent solution, which equates to a sodium level of 150 mg. per serving. The marinade is phosphate-free and made only of all natural ingredients including sea salt and chicken broth. The company expected to ship Just BARE deli products starting in late April.

In June 2011, KFC relaunched its Kentucky Grilled Chicken, which features 20 percent larger white meat breast pieces, marinated for juiciness, slow grilled and seasoned with a blend of herbs and spices. With fewer calories, fewer fat grams and less sodium than its Original Recipe, Kentucky Grilled Chicken provides a non-fried alternative to KFC’s traditional fare.

Del Taco’s new Ultimate Grilled Chicken Burrito also debuted last summer. Ingredients include grilled chicken marinated in spices and seasonings.

Beneath the surface

Poultry processors are looking for marinade ingredients that have the following characteristics, says Rick Cassidy, executive vice president of product development, Bindmax Proteins, New Berlin, Wis.:

? User friendly – Customers demand that all ingredients stay in solution or suspension so every piece of chicken gets a uniform amount of each ingredient.

? Label friendly – Today’s trends call for cleaner label ingredients that sound less chemical-like.

? Flavor impact – Customers prefer ingredients that deliver a unique, pronounced flavor profile at relatively low usage levels.

? Improve cook yield – With high meat and poultry prices, making marinades that lock in water during cooking means higher cook yields, higher margins and juicier chicken.

? Eye appeal – If a marinated chicken item looks good to consumers passing by the meat case, there is a better chance it will find its way into a shopping cart.

? Enhanced shelf-life – Many marinade ingredients, such as salt, lemon juice, vinegar, tomato, rosemary extract and oregano extract kill bacteria and/or slow down oxidative rancidity. This results in safer poultry products over a longer shelf-life.

Use of poultry marinades amongst Bindmax customers is increasing. “Consumers view chicken as a healthier alternative to some other entrées, but get ‘burnt out’ if they eat plain, baked boneless chicken breast every day,” Cassidy says. “Making a Cajun-or jalapeño-flavored chicken item gives it a little more pizzazz.”

Marinades and brines contribute a variety of attributes to the flavor and function of a product, says Robin Peterson, market manager of The Americas, Meat & Poultry, Purac America, Lincolnshire, Ill.

“Brines are most often used for injecting into meat, as such components should be fully solubilized and the brine stable, meaning no precipitation of ingredients should occur,” she says.

Often clear in color, brines may contain phosphates, antimicrobials, salt and sugar curing agents. Marinades may be used as a topical application to impart flavor, color, texture, safety and aroma.

Use of brines and marinades is increasing in poultry, particularly in the area of fresh overwrap retail and foodservice poultry, she says. “I believe the increased use of brines is motivated by a number of factors including improved shelf-life and delivering to consumers a more juicy and flavorful product,” Peterson adds. “Industry benefits as well through increased weights and the ability to expand their distribution areas.”

What’s new?

Bindmax PS is an all-natural, GMO-free, clean-label, water-binder system used in meat and poultry. It can improve cook yield in boneless chicken by up to 8 percent. It works in both meat and poultry. Bindmax F3 and P4 are fermented spices that also aid in moisture retention during cooking.

Purac’s Verdad 05 is a vinegar-based antimicrobial ingredient. It suppresses the growth of spoilage bacteria allowing for up to a 50 percent extension of shelf-life in fresh poultry, Purac’s Peterson says. Verdad 55 is a cultured sugar, vinegar blend made via fermentation. It is particularly effective at improving food safety in RTE meats by inhibiting the growth of Listeria, she adds.

Future use

The fate of the use of brines and marinades in poultry is still in debate, Peterson says. There is contention among poultry processors over the definition of “natural” chicken – and if it is appropriate to add anything to a fresh overwrap product and call it “natural”, she adds. Some companies actively market their products as nothing added, others are made with natural ingredients.

On the other hand, the use of brines and marinades offers benefits to some consumers and the processors who incorporate them in their products. “The answer to this question will be determined in the marketplace by consumers who choose to actively seek products which are as minimally processed as possible, and are willing to pay the price vs. those who are looking for better value, longer shelf-life or products with a particular flavor profile,” she says.

Using brines and marinades in chicken will increase in the future, Cassidy predicts. “If you look at China, which is one of the oldest cultures in the world, they have more than 50 varieties of marinated chicken,” he adds. “Variety is the spice of life, and poultry is no exception. Concerns over food safety, shelf-life, food prices and the constant influx of creative food-ingredient blends will be the reasons why this market segment will continue to grow.”

Because marinades are used in most products, Tyson Foods can’t accurately say their use is increasing, Sparkman says. Looking to the future, most Tyson poultry products will contain a marinade.

“We have marinades designed to address the needs of our customers and our Research and Development team are always looking at advances in delivery methods and new ingredients,” he adds. “Advances on the technical side of things are all about enhancing the eating experience.”