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Even cooks think that brining makes meat soak up water via osmosis. This is patently false. Osmosis works in the exact opposite way.

This entry is wrong[edit]

The claim that brining does not add water to the cell via osmosis goes against every single food science text book I have. The consensus in these texts is that the following happens:

  • While there is a high salt concentration in the brine outside the cell, the concentration of other solutes inside the cell is higher. This leads water to enter the cell via osmosis.

[ "Meat cells contain a lot of water, but it is water that is bound and held by the proteins. Actually, the free liquid in meat cells is very concentrated with dissolved substances. This means that even concentrated solutions of salt water or salt and sugar water will be concerated than the liquid inside the meat cells. So, when meat is soaked in a salt or sugar solution, some of the liquied will go through the cell walls into the cells. Brining is a way to increase the amount of liquid inside the meat cells.", CookWise, Shirley O. Corriher, p. 338 ]


  • At the same time, the concentration of sodium and chloride ions is higher in the brine than in the cell fluid. This lead sodium and chloride ions to enter the cell via diffusion.

[ "There is very little dissolved salt inside the cell, but there are tons of salt in the brine, usually from one to six cups per gallon. Again, Nature tries to even things up, this time by the process of diffusion: Some of the plentiful salt ions outside the cell diffuse or migrate through the membrane into the cell.", What Einstein Told His Cook, Robert L. Wolke, p.144 ]

[ "However, if there's salt in the water (even as little as a few hundred parts per million), the border guards - ever desirous of equilibrium - will throw open the borders and allow both salt and water to move across the membranes.", I'm Just Here For The Food, Alton Brown, p.183 ]

  • Next, the higher salt concentration inside the cell causes even more water to make it into the cell via osmosis.

[ "Now this is where things get really interesting: after 8 to 24 hours there's more salt in the meat, and more water has to be ratained to balance it - that's just the osmotic way.", I'm Just Here For the Food, Alton Brown, p.183 ]

  • The higher salt concentration inside the cell causes proteins to denature, increasing the cells water retention capability.

[ "the interections of salt and proteins result in a greater water-holding capacity in muscle cells, which absorb water from the brine.", On Food and Cooking, 2nd Edition, Harold McGee, p.156 ]

[ "When salt gets into meat cells it runs into certain water-soluble proteins. [...] This is what denatured proteins look like. Notice that they've gone from tight little separate springy things to big loose coils that have managed to get all tangled up with each other. During the cooking process, this tangled-up structure traps water almost like a gel.", I'm Just Here For The Food, Alton Brown, p.184 ]

While the previously linked web page, http://www.cbbqa.com/articles/Salt/SaltBrining.html, claims to reference On Food and Cooking, he actually references the first edition, which does not discuss brining. The second edition does have a section devoted to brining, which contradicts his conclusions.

I've also come across a somewhat different explanation that also makes sense. In this explanation, the cell's initial concentration of solutes is lower than that of the brine. This lead water to exit the cell via osmosis, while salt is absorved into the cell. The salt inside the cell disolves from the proteins, which now results in a higher concentration of solutes inside the cell, which leads water to rush in via osmosis.

[ "Brining meat adds moisture to the meat through osmosis. [...] When meat is placed in a brine, the meat's cell fluids are less concentrated than the salt water in the brining solution. Water flows out of the cells in the meat and salt flows in. The salt then dissolves some of the fiber proteins, and the meat's cell fluids become more concentrated, thus drawing water back in.", Exploratorium, http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/meat/INT-what-makes-flavor.html ]

This entry is awful - the discussion of brining do to osmosis is weak.[edit]

From [The Best New Recipe, http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0936184744/ref=pd_sxp_f/102-9940503-6870515?v=glance&s=books] from the publishers of America's Test Kitchen [Cook's Illustrated, http://www.cooksillustrated.com/], p312: ""SCIENCE: WHY BRINING WORKS - Many have attributed the added juiciness of brined chicken to osmosis - the flow of water a cross a barrier from a place with a higher water concentration (the brine) to a place with a lower one (the chicken). We decided to test this explanation. If osmoisis is, in fact, the source of the added juiciness of brined meat, we reasoned, then a bucket of pure usalted water should add moiseture at least as well as a brine, because water alone has the highest water concentration possible: 100 percent. After soaking one chicken in brine and another in water for the same amount of time, we found that both had gained moister, about 6 percent by weight. Satisfied that osmosis was indeed the force driving the addition of moisture to meat during brining, we roasted the two birds, along with a third straight out of the package. We would soon discover that osmosis was not the only reason why brined meat cooked up juicy. ... During roasting, the chicken taken straight from the package lost 18 percent of its original weight, and the chicken soaked in water lost 12 percent of its preasoak weight. Remarkably, the brined bird shed a mere 7 percent of its starting weight. Looking at the test results, we realized that the benefit of brining could not be explained by osmosis alone. Salt, too was playaing a crucial role by aiding in the retention of water. ... Table salt is made up of two ions, sodium and chloride, that are oppositely charged. Proteins, such as those in meat, are large molecules that contain a mosaic of chargers, negative and positive. When proteins are placed in a solution containing salt, they readjust their shape to accommodate the opposing charges. This rearrangement of the protein molecules compromises the structureal integrity of the meat, reducing its overall toughness. It aslo creates gaps that fill up with water. The added salt makes the water less likely to evaporate during cooking, and the result is meat that is both juicy and tender."

What do you find awful? The article you quote is perfectly in harmony with the entry. Water enters the cell via osmosis. The salt in the brine causes the proteins in the cells to denature and hold on to the water.

Here's another thing to consider[edit]

It is true that everything we know and observe about osmosis seems to contradict th idea that brining makes cells swell with fluid. This last post quoting the article helped clear that up, and I appreciate the experiment comparing fresh and salty water. There might be other things to consider in explaining the added weight. The liquid, whether brine or water, may be accumulating in the intercellular spaces, which means it has soaked into the tissue but not the cells, osmosis would have nothing to do with this. I have looked at hundreds of cells in salt solutions and watched them dehydrate and skrink. It happens every time. If you take cheek cells, or any animal cells such as red blood cells and put them in distilled water the reverse happens and they will swell and eventually lyse (burst) from the osmotic pressure. Both happen because salt ions (or almost any charged molecules) CANNOT pass through cell membranes. Don't put your lobster in the bathtub to keep it fresh because, as a marine creature, its cells will swell and burst.The same occasionally happens to the cells of a marathon runner's brain when he or she drinks enoughwater they lower the salt concentration of their blood. The reverse happens when a fresh water fish is put in the ocean, it dehydrates.(check out how sharks keep from dehydrating due to osmosis). Osmosis will cause cellular water to FLOW OUT when chicken is put in brine. Also, osmosis works according to the relative concentrations of solutes on either side of the membrane. As far as I know, it does not differentiate between different solutes, such as salt compared to starches, but the water flows to wherever its relative concentration is lower.

Here's the thing though. These cells are dead. Living cells will pump water in and out to conteract hyper or hypo saline conditions. The integrity of cell membranes must change when the cell no longer maintains them. Also, muscle cells, which we are eating when we eat chicken breasts and legs, are particularly plentiful with calcium ion channels. I rember reading in papers (sorry I forget exactly where but I sure you could find info on this by a search) that Ca+ ion channels in cell membranes are not as selective as they could be, meaning Na+ ions can get through them. With the cell dead, and as you mentioned the denaturing of proteins in the briny solutions, these cell membrane ion channels (which are made of protein) cannot be functioning as well as they would in a living cell. They may even degrade entirely and permanently open or close. This means that a ion channel (the CA+ channel) that is already likely to admit some Na+ ions when working properly is likely to be letting that sodium in. Its very possible ions are moving into the cells when you brine a turkey.

If the salt ion concentration inside the cells increas due to this process, then the concentration of those other solutes which are still too large to get out of the compromised membrane (such as proteins and starches) would still add to solute total inside, and water would now be at a higher concentration outside and flow in. That last idea though is at a level of speculation that makes me uncomfortable.

Ideas? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:20, 18 July 2008 (UTC)[reply]

Merger discussion[edit]

The new Brine (food) article, created on 18 December 2013 (UTC) should be merged into this article, because this article already covers the topic. Northamerica1000(talk) 00:50, 19 December 2013 (UTC)[reply]

  • Oppose. No, this article does not cover the topic. (and if it were, it is not a reason to merge; see below.) I could have left it in the page 'Brine'. My main purpose of splitting 'Brine' into several pages because there are several distinctly different kinds of brine. What is more, our interwiki, especially the recent one, based on poorly designed databse, is ill-suited to handle the case when some subject is split into subpages in different ways in different language wikipedias. In particular, redirects are not handled in a meaningful way. (did you see the interwikis in brine, brine (food), brine (refrigerant)?)
I understand that the artlice is small and begs to be merged, however brine is used not only for brining, but for other food conservation as well. Therefore it makes sense as a separate sub-topic. And it has potential for expansion; see the ru: article. (By the way, you did see the tag "under construction, didn't you?) Heck, we have an article for door handle. - Altenmann >t 03:32, 20 December 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Kho [edit]

I'm no expert on Vietnamese cooking, but I'm pretty certain that the text and external link in "Kho (cooking technique)" should be merged into "Brining". Kho means to brine (e.g., in fish sauce) and then cook. Meanwhile, the infobox at "Kho (cooking technique)" discusses not kho but rather bò kho, which is Vietnamese beef stew (which happens to be brined before stewing). There should be an article "Bò kho", but most of "Kho (cooking technique)" should be merged into "Brining". – Minh Nguyễn (talk, contribs) 05:45, 24 December 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Well, from what I see both in wp-articles and in sources given, kho and brining are rather differernt techniques. The principal difference I see from descriptions, brining is done before cooking , while kho is a particular process of cooking (which may involve pre-brining as well).
In the cited text by a lady with Vietnamese surname:

To prepare a basic kho dish, you simply place all the ingredients in a saucepan and let them cook until the meat juices have exuded and combined well with the other elements, and the overall color is as reddish-brown as dark honey. Creative cooks can doll things up by grilling or briefly sauteing the meat or fish before simmering it with the caramel sauce and other ingredients. If it isn't naturally present, a little fat or oil is added for richness.


Kho dishes originated before refrigeration was available in Vietnam and cooks needed to preserve food to accompany the mainstay of their diet, rice. To that end, they infused food with the saltiness of fish sauce, their beloved condiment. But things cooked in pure fish sauce were overly salty, so sugar was added to balance the flavor.

Of course, as a non-expert, I leave a possibility that the term "brining" aslo means "stewing in brine". If it is so, then the article "brining must be expanded, and of course, kho then rightfully mergeable there. - Altenmann >t 04:57, 27 December 2013 (UTC)[reply]
"Bò kho" literally means "beef kho", right? If yes, then infobox is incorrect. You cannot have "beef kho" made from shrimp, right? If I am right then please provide the coresponding vietnamese terms for all these shrimp kho, pork kho, etc. - Altenmann >t 04:57, 27 December 2013 (UTC)[reply]
re:separate article for :"Bò kho" If the only difference between beef kho and pork kho is beef vs. pork, then I don't think there should be separate articles (unless some of these khos is more prominent than others). Please keep in mind that in culinary the same bo kho may be prepared in hundreds of ways, therefor I dont think that minute differences in recipes must be covered in an encyclopedie. We have wikibooks project, which has a "Cookbook" book. All detailed recipes are very welcome there. - Altenmann >t 04:57, 27 December 2013 (UTC)[reply]

P.S.I am not an expert in any culinary, but I randomly stumbled upon the confusion in global wikipedia (i.e., english and interwikis) for all these brining/marinating/salting. In fact my ignorance helps me to untangle all these: I have no preconceived notions and opinions, I just logically sort out things from existing texts in various languages. While we at this I have an impression that the Bulgarian Salamura is something similar to what is written in kho (cooking technique). I noticed it while wandering across interwikis. Unfortulately the bulgarian wp-article is referenceless, so I will have to waste some time on research to write it. - Altenmann >t 04:57, 27 December 2013 (UTC) P.P.S. It seems that Korean stew Kimchi jjigae is a similar process, where saltiness/sourness is gotten not from fish sauce, but from kimchi. - Altenmann >t 04:57, 27 December 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Oppose merge. Brining is one way to preserve food, this is a particular food that seems to be prepared by braising not brining. I see no connection. ϢereSpielChequers 10:58, 3 March 2014 (UTC)[reply]


The thermodynamics of osmosis: As pointed out above, osmosis moves water TOWARD the salty side of a membrane in an attempt to dilute the salt and reach equilibrium. Water moves, the salts do not move. If you wanted to maximize water movement INTO the poultry you would soak it in distilled water. I reworded that section to show there are two theories about brineing, osmosis and denaturation. --Richard Arthur Norton (1958- ) (talk) 13:48, 16 August 2016 (UTC)[reply]

"Dry brining" is a non-sensical phrase[edit]

I don't understand why people have started referring to salting meat as 'dry brining'. Brine itself necessarily includes water, as a brine is literally a solution of water with a high concentration of salt. A 'dry' brine would just be salt. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:43, 18 April 2021 (UTC)[reply]