While they're used year round, marinades are especially popular in the summer because they enhance the tenderness as well as the taste of meats. And in ways scientists don't completely understand, marinades combat the harmful carcinogens formed when meat is cooked at high heat, as in grilling. As a matter of fact, marinades may be the single most effective way to reduce the amount of the cancer-causing substances created.

Scientific research has found that marinating meats before grilling can reduce the amount of these carcinogens by as much as 90 to 99 percent. Even briefly marinating meat has been found to help prevent carcinogens from forming. Although scientists don't know exactly why marinades offer this protective effect, some believe it is due to the protective nature of the marinade in coating the meat, or possibly the antioxidant compounds in certain ingredients used in marinades.

Marinades contain three basic components: an acidic ingredient (vinegar or citrus juice), flavoring (vegetables, herbs and spices) and some form of enabler (usually oil) that binds the ingredients and helps the marinade to perform effectively. The marinade ingredients that contain antioxidants include citrus juice, many vegetables, herbs and spices.

Use about half a cup of marinade for every pound of food. (Large pieces may need more marinade.) Some acidic ingredients react badly with metal, so only use glass, ceramic or plastic containers. Turn the food occasionally so all surfaces are soaked in marinade. Or, use a heavy-duty resealable plastic bag to hold the marinating foods. Just turn the bag upside down every now and then.

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Never baste with marinating liquid, which may be contaminated by harmful bacteria in raw meats. Instead, discard the marinating liquid and make a fresh batch to baste with or serve as an accompanying sauce.

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Classic Marinade

Yield: Quantity: sufficient for marinating 4 servings (1 lb.) of meat, fish or poultry.

  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 Tbsp. safflower oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, thyme or oregano (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  1. Combine all the ingredients until well blended in a non-metal container large enough to comfortably contain the food to be grilled. Add meat and turn several times until all sides are well coated.
  2. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes or more, depending on the size of the food portions. Periodically turn food to distribute flavors evenly.
  3. Drain and remove excess marinade with paper toweling. Grill, turning often to prevent charring.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
35 calories,
2 g. total fat (0 g. saturated fat),
5 g. carbohydrate,
less than 1 g. protein,
less than 1 g. dietary fiber,
1 mg. sodium