Why It Pays To Marinate A Cut Of Meat In Yogurt

Before you go reaching for your usual go-to marinade, consider this. If there were another marinade, one that guaranteed you the most tender and flavorful meat, would you use it? That's a silly question. Of course, you would. Well, that special marinade happens to be yogurt (of the plain variety), and believe us, it pays to use it when marinating any kind of meat.

Marinades inject flavor into the meat by breaking down certain aspects of the meat's chemistry. In order to make meat more tender, marinades are made with some acidic element, such as vinegar or some variety of fruit or citrus. When the acid comes in contact with the meat, it will begin to break down the meat's surface proteins, thereby allowing the marinade to penetrate inside. 

Yogurt works in exactly the same way, only it has specific properties that allow it to really tenderize and flavor meat in a way no other marinade can. As yogurt is fermented milk, it has the presence of two things: culture, i.e. bacteria, and milder acidity. Both work in unison to make yogurt the perfect marinade for your meat.

Why yogurt is better

Here's the thing about yogurt: It's gentle. Heavily acidic marinades have the potential to actually do the opposite of what they were intended to do. That is, they will toughen the meat instead of tenderizing it. So, where you have the potential for rubbery meat with some marinades, you really don't have to worry about yogurt.

As yogurt has a more gentle acidity, with a pH range of 4 to 5, it needs time in order to properly break down the collagen proteins in the meat and make it tender. Anywhere from 12 to 24 hours could be necessary to marinate your meat, which could be chicken, beef, or pork. Really, any kind of meat benefits from a yogurt bath. And since yogurt is teaming with healthy, cultured bacteria, you don't need to worry about pathogens being present. 

If you're worried about the flavor that plain, tangy yogurt might bring to your meat, don't be. Yogurt really is a blank slate that can be flavored with a number of herbs and spices like cumin, curry powder, cayenne pepper, thyme, rosemary, and black pepper. Yogurt also has the additional benefit of forming a beautiful crust on your meat. The sugars in the yogurt will caramelize, giving your meat a subtly sweet flavor and a wonderful, crispy texture.