Marinate Meat for Healthy Grilling?

Study Shows That Store-Bought Marinades May Keep Cancer-Causing Compounds From Forming on Grilled Meats

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 01, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 1, 2008 -- It's enough to make your mouth water. The smell of a sizzling steak on the grill on a summer evening, as friends gather around the barbecue.

Then a pesky thought buzzes your brain. Can grilling meat cause cancer-causing chemicals to form?

That substance that forms on meats cooked at high temperatures (such as from grilling, frying, or broiling meat) includes compounds that researchers say are "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." The compounds are known as HCAs, or heterocyclic amines. Some research has shown that eating more HCAs increases your risk for several cancers, including colorectal, stomach, lung, pancreas, breast, and prostate cancers.

But researchers at Kansas State University and The Food Science Institute believe marinades may hold the key to healthier grilled meats.

Here's how their study was carried out.

Researchers marinated eye of round steaks for an hour in three different store-bought marinades. The meat was coated on all sides and turned several times. Steaks were then grilled at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes on each side.

They also tested steaks with no marinade and those with marinade made only with water, vinegar, and soybean oil.

Grilling Marinated Meat

When the meat was tested for total HCAs, the steak cooked in the Caribbean marinade mixture had an 88% reduction in the "bad" compounds.

Those cooked in the herb marinade had a more than 72% drop in compounds. The Southwest marinade meats had a 57% reduction in compounds.

What did the three store-bought marinades have in common?

They all contained two or more spices from the mint family, which are rich in antioxidants, the researchers note.

"Commercial marinades offer spices and herbs, which have antioxidants that help decrease the HCAs formed during grilling," according to a prepared statement from study lead researcher J.S. Smith, PhD. "The results from our study have a direct application since more consumers are interested in healthier cooking."

Although the study didn't include recipes, it did include ingredients.

The Caribbean marinade contained thyme, red and black pepper, allspice, rosemary, and chives.

The Southwest marinade was made with paprika, red pepper, oregano, black pepper, garlic, and onion.

And the herb marinade was prepared with oregano, basil, onion, jalapeno, parsley, and red pepper.

All of the store-bought tested marinades also were made with sugar and salt.

Other research looking at the possible beneficial affects of marinating before grilling have been mixed, the researchers say.

The new results are published in the Journal of Food Science.

Show Sources


Smith, J.S. Journal of Food Science, 2008, manuscript received ahead of print.

News release, Institute of Food Technologists.

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