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Dec 22, 2011 01:49 PM

~ Are most meats at the supermarket already brined with salt? If so, how do can you tell? ~

~ Are most meats at the supermarket already brined with salt? If so, how do can you tell? ~

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  1. Most, no. Poultry and Pork, sometimes. In the US the label must say if there is a solution added. Look for the words "Solution," "Basted," "Added" or "Injected."

    1. Meats that are vacuum sealed are more likely to have something added but as acgold7 said, it will say so on the packaging. The cuts of meat that are store-wrapped or in the butcher's case are not generally tinkered with.

      1. Or if it says "seasoned" ? You see a lot of that.

        1. Very few meats at the supermarket are already brined with salt. Read the label. If there is added saline solution or brine the label will clearly state so. Despite popular believe, very little poultry has added brine. Poultry labels often have some text about water retained from the chilling process, but that is not technically added brine or water.

          The exception to the above is meat from Walmart. I believe most, if not all, their meats and all their poultry have added brine or some sort of solution, because they believe their customers prefer it that way.

          40 Replies
          1. re: janniecooks

            The Safeway where I shop routinely "enhances" its regular skinless-boneless chicken breast with salt water. You have to pay extra to get chicken that has not been pumped up that way. They are also offering less and less meat that has been cut by the butcher in the store. Instead, they have stuff in bags or sealed packages from factories. I am therefore spending more and more of my grocery dollars at another market that has an on-site butchering operation and offers no "enhancements."

            1. re: janniecooks

              The water/brine also adds to the weight of the meat and increases the cost at little cost to the producer. Why would you want to brine a steak when the very best steaks have been dry aged for 2+ weeks?

              That is one of the many reasons why I refuse to buy any fresh meat from Wal-Mart, but I will occasionally buy a package of hot dogs or pre-packaged sausage such as Bob Evans or Johnsonville.

              1. re: Kelli2006

                Who is selling brined steaks, other than kosher places?

                1. re: tommy

                  Most of Wal-Mart's fresh meat is "enhanced".

                  1. re: Kelli2006


                    ETA: Good God, they do have enhanced beef. But I don't see why this is a bad thing necessarily.

                    1. re: tommy

                      Beef, Pork, Chicken, cold cuts, eggs, and spam.

                      1. re: tommy

                        The best beef has been dry aged 2-3 weeks to remove water because water doesn't add flavor, so why would you want meat that has had extra water and salt injected into it?

                        Injecting fluids into beef covers up many sins and boosts the weight of the product to add to the profit at little cost to the producer.

                        1. re: Kelli2006

                          The process of dry-aging is much more complex that simply the removal of water, and it's not done to just remove water.

                          Having water (which exists in most things that you eat) in meat can lead to the impression that it's juicier (try putting some water in ground beef for a hamburger, or brining a pork chop, or chicken, or turkey, or duck). And of course, salt is a flavor enhancer.

                          Whether or not dry-aged beef is "the best" is simply opinion. Some people don't like it at all.

                          1. re: tommy

                            so you're ok with paying extra for saline water inside your meats? you wouldn't rather marinate or season the meat yourself? you wouldn't rather be sure the product is absolutely fresh, vs. having a bunch of junk masking the true flavor?


                            Here’s Wal-Mart’s explanation to the Hartford Courant:

                            "Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters told me that all its case-ready beef (packaged at the processing plant) is “enhanced with a maximum 12 percent solution of water, sodium phosphate, salt, and natural flavorings. "

                            an anecdotal observation from a shopper who wrote to the walmart ceo:

                            Ham………….contained……23% solution
                            Chicken Breasts.contained……15% solution
                            Pork Roast……contained……12% solution
                            Ground Round….contained……15% solution
                            Chuck Roast…..contained……11% solution
                            Beef Fillet…..contained……20% solution

                        2. re: tommy

                          It's bad because 1) the consumer ends up paying, on a per-ounce basis, an exorbitant dollar price for what is essentially salt water (the brines add up to 25% to the weight of the product, and 2) being brined, the meats are excessively high in sodium, and there are other additives as well.

                          1. re: janniecooks

                            Pay what you want. If it's too excessive brine yourself. No one is forcing you to buy the product.

                            1. re: tommy

                              "No one is forcing you" could be added to every post on this site. It is meaningless in the context of an opinion-based website.

                              I don't buy meat from Walmart, but I am happy to know to avoid it in the future because I don't want to pay meat prices for water. I tried adding water to hamburger once based on a suggested recipe. I thought it was a bad idea, and after trying it I have an even lower opinion of the practice.

                              1. re: Steve

                                Maybe I'm just crazy and prefer to try a product before coming up with reasons to not. Especially arguments like "you're paying for water" or some unsubstantiated "exorbitant dollar price." You're paying for water when you buy anything. There's water in beef. There's water in asparagus. Perhaps there's a new all-jerky diet with which I'm not familiar.

                                One poster doesn't want to spend more for water. Another poster is OK with beef that has had water removed (and will pay more for less water). Neither seems to address how the process could actually be beneficial.

                                I don't buy meat from Walmart either. I'm happy to be able to afford anything I want, and to be able to try different food products before forming opinions.

                                1. re: tommy

                                  Yes, all food products contain water - it's a natural component of all living things.

                                  BUT -- "enhanced" meat has ***added*** water -- along with a lot of salt and all kinds of other things that an awful lot of us don't add to our meat anyway....

                                  So paying for something that I *know* is 6-15% water and stuff I don't add to meat anyway is really not on my list of things I'm going to do any time soon.

                                  And I have tried Walmart meat -- two words: salt lick.

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    i live in new england, where the sea offers up some of the best scallops in the world. you can buy "dry" or "wet" scallops.



                                    "Wet scallops are commonly treated with Phosphates which is a preservative. When scallops are soaked in phosphates, they absorb water making them weigh more and thereby costing you more. (Take in mind, that you are paying for added water.) The absorbed water evaporates during cooking and, in turn, shrinks your scallops leaving them smaller, dry and somewhat tasteless. Furthermore, the added water does not let scallops brown properly during cooking. It is generally easy to discern treated scallops as they will usually appear snow-white in color."

                                    in market, these wet scallops are sitting in a pool of white cloudy liquid, so easy to spot, even for a novice.

                                    this treatment may add up to 25% more weight to the food. sure, they come from the ocean and their meat is a very high percentage of water. do i want to pay even MORE for added water? not to mention preservatives?

                                    the "solution" injected to walmart meats is just that: extra water and preservatives. this is not about enhancing flavor. only maximizing profits with inferior products.

                                    you sometimes play devil's advocate in odd places, tommy.

                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      "you sometimes play devil's advocate in odd places, tommy."

                                      Yeah, I have this weird desire for critical thinking.

                                      1. re: tommy

                                        i don't equate critical thinking with simple contrariness.

                                        1. re: tommy

                                          Tommy, our food industry already adds things to the food supply that shouldn't be there. I don't want to buy a chemistry experiment, I want to buy fresh, real meat without mysterious additives.

                                          Pre-"brining" meats causes the texture to be mushy in a very unappealing way. When someone brines meat at home or in a restaurant, the brining time is MUCH shorter than in packaged meats - often only 30 minutes for smaller cuts. This is to avoid breaking down the meat to an unpleasant pudding-like consistency.

                                          We all love to pick on Wal-Mart, but Target is doing the same thing. Other chains regularly do this to pork and chicken, but so far around here they are at least leaving the beef alone (unlike Wal-Mart and Target).

                                          1. re: sandylc

                                            my rule of thumb is not to buy my food in the same place i can buy snow tires.

                                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                                              Then you're missing out on some of the best food in the country, at Costco.

                                              1. re: acgold7

                                                there is no costco near enough to me. i generally am only cooking for two, so the cost of gas simply doesn't justify driving and joining.

                                                for cheese and yogurts i get great values at trader joe's. meat i buy from butchers i frequent. regular, old-school butchers. they don't sell lawnmowers or underpants. for the offal-bits, i shop in asian markets.

                                              2. re: hotoynoodle

                                                Sam's Club baking yeast is amazing, at 1/8 the cost of supermarket yeast. They also have a wonderful Aged Irish Cheddar for a great price. EV Olive Oil is also a bargain. Most of the other food is terrible - especially the meat. Food shopping is a treasure hunt these days.

                                              3. re: sandylc

                                                Our big grocery chain is Hy-Vee. They introduced pumped beef a few years ago to compete with Walmart, but it now occupies a small part of their wrapped meat section and none of their butcher shop section which features Amana USDA choice beef. Their chicken has retained water but they offer MDA Smart Chicken which is air chilled with no retained water. However, and this is a big "however" for an Iowa chain, they have absolutely NO unpumped pork. All they sell is "Hormel, Always Tender" which is 12% brine. For every dollar per pound, you are paying 1.136 for the net weight sans water.

                                                1. re: WILLOBIE

                                                  The chicken contains 12% brine solution, or the chicken was brined in a 12% solution? There is a considerable difference. I would not expect them to weigh the chicken before and after and then calculate the increase in weight all to put 12% brine on the packaging unless they really have to legally (I am guessing that they are only legally required to tell you salt added). Brining is an age old process to enhance tenderness of meat by doing two things: 1. The chicken immersed in brine solution will retain some of the brine; 2. (more importantly) it will dissolve or denature some protein which will help the chicken retain moisture during cooking. Most people will just buy a chicken take it home and cook it without giving much thought to the cooking process and will end up with a more dried out chicken meat..... for them a brined chicken will of course end up tasting better since it will be juicier and more tender. It is not a new process, and as far as I am concerned as long as it is labelled - then let the consumer choose. Don't know why this one gets people's knickers in a knot.

                                                  1. re: cacruden

                                                    I love it when math comes together.

                                        2. re: tommy

                                          The benefit of selling meat with injected water is entirely one for the retailer. It pumps up the weight that you buy by the pound/kilo. That is why they do it. It is a scam - unfortunately one that is legal in most countries.

                                          1. re: Harters

                                            You seem to be speaking from a position of authority. Where have you read that a saline solution does nothing to alter taste/juiciness? Seems counterintuitive, since the process adds salt and liquid.

                                            1. re: tommy

                                              please see my paste above, regarding the downsides of "wet" scallops.

                                              injections indeed alter "juiciness", allowing even more liquid to leach of the protein during cooking, drying it out.

                                              1. re: tommy

                                                It doesn't necessarily add juiciness -- with ground beef, 'wet' scallops,, and chicken, the water is squeezed out of the meat as the muscle tissue contracts on the heat, leaving you with a pan full of water and the meat.....this increases the salt concentration, as when the water evaporates, it leaves you with more salt (and other crap) per pound than when you bought it. (the water also tends to leave the meat waterlogged ad strangely-textured, not juicy). Since they're already adding a pretty good addition of salt (and other crap), increasing the concentration of those things just leave you with a piece of meat that tastes mostly of salt (and other crap) and only distantly a piece of soggy, waterlogged meat.

                                                Biggest issue is -- why would you willingly cough up your hard-earned money KNOWING that 25% of the weight is just water? This equates to a 25% markup to purchase the same weight of meat...why would you do that, especially when since you're buying NON altered meat at what works out to be a 25% discount, brine ONLY what you want to brine (because really, who brines steaks?) - and you remain in control of what salt (or other crap) ends up on your plate.

                                                Would you pay good money for a cocktail that's watered down by 25%? (before adding ice, of course) How about the convenience mart down the street starts watering down all of its fountain drinks by long do you think that will last?

                                                1. re: tommy

                                                  "You seem to be speaking from a position of authority"

                                                  Indeed so.

                                          2. re: tommy

                                            True, no one is forcing the consumer to buy. Personally I prefer to add my own post-slaughter additives.

                                            1. re: janniecooks

                                              I agree with the concept that no one is forcing you to buy anything - many here have pointed this out (maybe even me; I don't remember! ha)

                                              The problems with this:

                                              1. Many people don't know the difference. They don't read labels, they just pick up what's available and cheap at their neighborhood store. These are not discriminating consumers regarding taste, quality, or health.

                                              2. Because of number one, grocers/producers decide that since so many people are buying crap, crap is what people want. Thus, they produce even more crap. If you ask a food producer to improve the health/quality of their products, they will give you the line that they are fulfilling consumer "demands".

                                              3. Because of number two, I have to drive further and search harder every year to find real food to buy. Oh, and did I mention pay more?

                                              1. re: sandylc

                                                Sandy I agree wholeheartedly with all your points. The whole trend is troubling, reminiscent of, or just a slippery slope on the way to, adulterated foods in the name of profits a la China in recent years. Short of not giving such retailers our custom, what could or should we as consumers do, those of us who prefer fresh meat with no additives?

                                                1. re: janniecooks

                                                  Well, that's the scary part. In order to stop the slide mid-slope, we have to convince more people to buy real food. If the choices are truly consumer-driven, then we need more consumers on the right side. It sounds great to say, "they can just buy that crap - I know better and I'll buy the good stuff", but in reality the people who are buying the crap are supporting the crap industry and even helping it to grow. This is why the icky food industry is threatening to eclipse the real food industry. So, education and conversations are our allies.

                                                  1. re: sandylc

                                                    So true. It was amazing how fast pink slime affected the practices of stores. If only the rest of the issues could be remedied.

                                        3. re: tommy

                                          For those of us on sodium restricted diets, this brining/flavor-enhancing et cetera trend is problematic. It adds a LOT of salt to the meats. I can only have 2000 mg sodium daily... The pork I made last night was over 500 mg sodium per serving. Trust me, it matters lol

                                  2. re: janniecooks

                                    i suspect this has more to do with the abhorrent quality of factory-farmed meat they sell. the brine masks the flavors of cow and pig anguish.

                                    1. re: janniecooks

                                      poultry is cooled (chilled) shortly after slaughter. One of the easiest ways is to submerge in cold water, and yes, some water is retained. Another method is air chilling, simply pass the carcass through a cold room.
                                      In a previous life, I had to decide which chicken supplier to deal with. Long story short, when cooked in a charcoal rotisserie (I tested each side by side), I preferred the wet-chilled birds. I'm not saying wet-chilled is generally better than air-, just that in this one application, for me, the wet-chilled gave better results.

                                      1. re: porker

                                        I have no problem with wet-chilled birds, in fact that's all that can be purchased in most supermarkets as the birds sold there are factory-produced. Water retained from the wet-chilling process is normal, and the label usually states an approximate percentage of retained water. Contrast this with the practice, wide-spread in Walmart, and now apparently in Safeway and Target, of injecting some sort of brine or "flavor-enhancing" solution. This too is clearly stated on the label and I only raised the water-retention issue to contrast it with the practice of brine-injected meats.

                                    2. It may depend on where in the world you are, of course. Where I am, packaged meat would be required, by law, to state if salt had been added. It's an important protection for the consumer as, otherwise, you wouldnt know how much water you were buying along with your meat.

                                      Loose meat, at the butchery counter, is unlikely to have salt added (except, say, bacon and sausages, where salt is inherent in the preparation process). So, that's where I'd buy chicken for instance - I want to spend my money on chicken, not chicken and salty water.