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Can You Marinate For Too Long?

There are plenty of techniques to ensure that your dish has so much flavour that no one would dare utter the words dull or bland after a single bite.

The issue is that unless you attend a cooking school or have the time to devote yourself to understanding the complexities of developing ample flavour in your home kitchen, then you will likely find your dinners and dishes falling short. 

Luckily there is one solution that can work wonders in the taste of your food, a delicious marinade. But is it possible to over-marinade your food? Or will it simply make it more flavourful? 

Yes, you can marinate for too long. How long is too long varies depending on what you are marinating, but for the most part, more than 24 hours is too long to marinate either meat or veg. 

What Is The Purpose Of A Marinade?

The whole reason that marinades exist is, at their core, to add flavour to a range of proteins and sometimes vegetables. These proteins can range from regular chicken breasts to firm blocks of tofu. 

However, depending on the type of marinade that you use and the protein you are using it for, a marinade can be the ideal way to add some tenderness to your food.

This can be done via an acidic ingredient in the marinade, such as lemon juice or rice vinegar, which works to break down the protein’s tissue. Once the protein is then cooked, it will be perfectly soft and melt in the mouth. 

How you use a marinade is entirely up to what you want the final result of your meal to be. 

Marinade in a Bowl

Does Marinade Need To Include Acid?

There is no hard fast rule for what should be included in a marinade.

That being said, it is very typical for most marinades to include some acidic element, as most marinades are used to flavour tough proteins. 

Leaving out an acidic element from your marinade is not necessarily bad. In fact, it may work in your favour if you are marinating tofu or soft vegetables and you don’t want them to become even soften than they are.

But you will need to be aware of the disbalance in flavours that the lack of acid will result in if you are following a marinade recipe. 

Does Marinade Have To Include Sugar?

Another key part of the vast majority of marinades is sugar or sweetness.

This is not always the case and you can absolutely leave out any extra sweetness from your marinade if you do not think it will benefit your meal or protein in any way.

However, you may be missing out on a lot of flavours. Even a splash of honey or a dollop of barbecue sauce can add a whole new complexity to your protein or vegetables, and therefore your dish, without making them overly sweet. 

How Long To Marinade Chicken

One of the most common go-to proteins to be marinaded is chicken.

Out of all the commonly consumed meats, chicken is by far the blandest, leaving plenty of room for you to add flavour to the meat and manipulate it to suit your dish however you want. 

You don’t necessarily have to use a marinade to tenderise some parts of the chicken, such as a chicken tenderloin. But you will still want to marinade your chicken, no matter the cut, to add as much flavour as possible to the meat. 

Marinating Chicken

Chicken remains one of the more forgiving meats to marinade as it can soak up plenty of flavours and become tenderised a suitable amount in just a couple of hours.

Most recipes recommend that you marinade the chicken for at least 12 hours or overnight to allow the meat to absorb as much of the marinade as possible before it is cooked. 

Don’t Exceed 24 Hours!

You should avoid marinating chicken for longer than 24 hours.

You should always use your fridge to marinade raw chicken anyway, but any longer than 24 hours in a marinade may encourage the growth of harmful bacteria on the chicken, making it dangerous to eat.

More so, you risk completely over-tenderising your chicken, especially if you use a very acidic marinade.

Some parts of the chicken may be tough initially, but they are nowhere near as tough as a steak, so keeping the chicken in an acidic marinade longer than 24 hours will turn it to mush. 

How Long To Marinade Tofu

A protein that has been popular in the east far longer than it has in the west is the increasingly well-known tofu.

Unlike other proteins, tofu is an entirely vegan alternative made from soya milk curdled and pressed in a block. Though, like chicken, tofu is bland, designed so that it can have a wider range of uses. 

There are 5 categories of tofu, ranging from silken (which is the softest in texture) to super-firm (the hardest in texture). Which tofu you use will affect how long you should marinate it. 

Silken tofu is the least likely to be able to hold up again for a long marinating time. After 12 hours, the tofu will simply fall apart when it is cooked.

But firm tofu and super-firm tofu are much more capable of being marinaded for longer periods of time. You only need to marinate the tofu for around 24 hours for it to be full of flavour.

Though if you want a perfectly tender, meat-like piece of tofu, you can marinade firm or super-firm tofu for up to 3 days. So long as you do so in the fridge, that is and assuming that your marinade is not overwhelmingly acidic. 


Marinating Time FAQs

Do you have further questions about how long to marinate foods? Then these FAQs might be useful:

Is the Longer You Marinate the Better?

No! Over-marinating anything, especially lean meats, can toughen up their texture. Instead, focus on marinating dishes for just long enough to impart some flavour.

Can You Marinate Chicken for 48 Hours?

Although it is safe to marinate chicken for 48 hours, it’s not a good idea. Instead, try to limit the time it sits in a marinade to around 24 hours.


Where we obtain our information and verify the facts in this article:

Food Network

How long to marinate chicken for

Nora Cooks

How long to marinate tofu for and a marinade for tofu

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