Why Is Marinating Food In Yoghurt Effective? Find Out
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When succulent pieces of chicken tikka is plated fresh off of being taken off hot coals, the sizzle of its juices and the mellow tang of the yoghurt marinade cause it to reach the level of deliciousness that it is at. It has been known since the concept of a tandoor has been around to roast meat and vegetables, slathered with a creamy orange marinade, that flavour is not too far away. Most chicken or paneer tikka recipes, shawarma and even friend chicken benefit largely from soaking in yoghurt, flavoured with spices and aromatics; however, if ancient cooking techniques are anything to go by, marinating food for too long is ill-advised.

Scientifically speaking, letting proteins sit in an acidic marinade of some sort helps in breaking down the protein cells, making chicken, paneer or tofu more porous and capable of absorbing a deeper flavour. Cooking acids, depending on the source, react very differently when they come in contact with other ingredients – hence, having different compositions and end results. The most common acids that are widely used across cuisines and kitchens have mostly to do with vinegar, citrus or yoghurt, making their chemical structures drastically different from the other.

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When you draw parallels between harsher acids like vinegar or lemon juice and yoghurt, which contains lactic acid, the latter has a mellower effect on protein. As the meat or paneer marinates in yoghurt, the active protein present in both ingredients tend to be enhanced, creating a crust around the meat or paneer when cooked. Unlike any other acidic substance where the sugar caramelises on coming in contact with heat, the diary in yoghurt is the first to caramelise, giving it a rounded flavour and contrasting soft and crunchy texture.

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Ideally, it is best to use thick-set yoghurt for this purpose – plain or Greek – as the ingredients already contain a certain amount of moisture, thereby diluting the effects of the lactic acid on their composition. Using cooking methods like grilling or searing enhance the chemical reaction of the yoghurt and protein ingredient, which causes both – the marinade and meat or paneer to release a bit of moisture – making the final dish juicy and moist on the inside. Moreover, the tang from the yoghurt works in a complimentary way with the marinated ingredient, giving it a sour-sweet contrast that might be slight but prominent.

Lemon juice or vinegar-based marinades coax the moisture out of the ingredients, creating the chances of a mushier or overtly delicate dish which might not be as appealing in texture when eaten. The span of time with yoghurt marinades is irrelevant and might yield the same results irrespective of how long the marination has occurred.