Why Soda Works So Well As A Meat Marinade

Back in 2001, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson shared a recipe which might have been considered unusual for her readers at the time, which involved cooking a mild-cure ham in regular Coke. She pleaded with skeptics to give the recipe a chance, saying, "Only those who have never tried this raise an eyebrow at the idea. Don't hesitate, don't be anxious: this really works."

Lawson wouldn't have been the first person to work out that Coke works wonders on meat. Southern Kitchen lays out a few of the different ways soda in general — and Coca Cola in particular — is used to cook meat in, and there is a reason why it works.

One of the key ingredients in soda is an ingredient called phosphoric acid — and while it might sound like something that you don't want anywhere near your food, Healthline says the acid is not only what gives bubbly beverages its tang, it also acts as a preservative by keeping mold and bacteria at bay. When added to a piece of meat like pork or chicken, this acid breaks down both proteins and connective tissue, making it an ideal ingredient in marinades. But there are two caveats.

Things to remember when using a soda-based marinade

Firstly, meat marinated in a sugary, fizzy drink like coke on its own may not do much for you, but if you add a second ingredient like soy sauce, per Southern Kitchen, you're left with a tasty treat which comes packed with what Food & Wine calls a "caramel-like complexity." Epicurious even recommends the use of root beer, whose primary flavors include the stronger anise and/or sassafras, made whole with the addition of soy sauce, vinegar, and bourbon, like this recipe shared by "The Drew Barrymore Show."

And lest you think lemon-lime sodas don't have a role to play in the universe of meat marinades, consider 7-Up mixed with soy sauce, horseradish, and garlic for a great piece of grilled chicken. In the Philippines, pieces of chicken are left in a marinade made with nothing but 7-Up, a range of spices like onion and garlic powders, salt, and white pepper for a fried chicken dish like no other, per Panlasang Pinoy.

Secondly, soda might sound like the perfect marinade and it is — but there is a catch. Proteins that are marinated in soda need to be cooked up no more than eight hours after they've been soaked, per Southern Kitchen, or you end up with pieces that could be closer to mush than meat.