Should You Count Calories In Marinade? (How To Work It Out)


Marinating meat is a great way to add flavor and tenderize those tougher cuts before cooking. If you’re watching your macros and calories, you may be wondering if you should count the calories in a marinade?

As marinades do add some calories to your dish, you may want to count them, especially if using calorific ingredients. However, the additional amount could be very small and depends on the ingredients and how long the meat is left to marinate.

This means it can be quite hard to exactly work out how many calories are added, but a good estimation can be calculated which I’ve outlined later in this article from some research.

Essentially it comes down to calculating the calories in the marinade and working out how much was transferred.

To help you get some idea, I’ll mention some typical marinades and give you a few tips on estimating those extra calories to help when you’re figuring it out. Let’s get started!

Does Marinade Add Calories To Meat?

From the research I’ve carried out, it seems there is no doubt that marinating meat does add some calories to the dish, but exactly how much is a difficult one to work out. 

In most cases, it’s likely that the actual caloric content of the meal is not going to increase that much by adding a marinade. That’s because a large part of it is just thrown away once the meat is on the grill.

However, if you’re on a very strict diet or prefer to know exactly how many calories you’re consuming, there are a couple of things you need to think about.

First of all, you will need to consider what the ingredients of the marinade are as this is the main factor when estimating the calories it may add.

The next factor is how long you leave the meat to sit in the mixture. The idea of marinating meat is that it absorbs as much of the liquid as possible to enhance the flavors and texture. So the longer you leave it, the more will be absorbed, adding a few extra calories as it does so.

How Many Calories Does A Marinade Add To Meat?

To work out the extra calories that a marinade is going to add to your food, you first need to know the calorie content of the ingredients in the marinade and then work out how much has transferred to the meat.

That will at least give you some idea as a starting point, but remember that this will always be an estimate as there is no easy way to get exact measurements.

If you’re using a store-bought mix, then there should be some nutritional information printed on the label that tells you everything you need to know. Use that to work out how many calories the marinade has depending on the quantity you use.

For homemade recipes, you will need to work the values out yourself. A great resource I’ve found that helps with this is the searchable food calorie counter over at WebMD.

Let’s take a look at a few simple marinade recipes to compare their caloric content.

Marinade of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. One tablespoon of olive oil is around 120 calories and a tablespoon of balsamic averages 10 so this mixture would come to around 130 calories.

A marinade made from honey and soy. A tablespoon of honey is around 64 calories and soy sauce is 15 per tablespoon, so a mixture of these quantities is around 79 caloric content.

A simple sweet teriyaki marinade. Typically this is made up of a tablespoon of soy sauce (15 calories), a tablespoon of brown sugar (51 calories), and a teaspoon of ginger (19 calories). That adds up to 85 in total.

Obviously, you have to adjust quantities based on how much you need but this should give you an idea of how to work it out for your own favorite recipe.

How many of these calories end up being absorbed into the meat is the next part of the puzzle and I’ll show you that next.

How Much Of A Marinade Is Absorbed?

To get a good idea of how much marinade has been absorbed by the meat is to do a before and after comparison. Make a note of how much liquid there was to start with and once the meat is removed to be cooked, compare it with the amount of marinade left.

It’s a fairly basic method but it works!

If you use a large amount of marinade then obviously lots will be left over as the meat can only take so much. But I found for a typical amount that just covers the meat, around a third to a half of the mixture is used up. You can use that as a rule of thumb if you want.

If you’re counting calories and know the calorie count of the whole marinade, you can now work out how much was transferred to the meat. Don’t forget to divide the amount by the number of portions of meat to get the individual calorie count for each one.

Notes On Marinade Absorption

Naturally, we want our meat to absorb (and get covered in) as much of the marinade mixture as possible so that it benefits from the wonderful flavors we have added. If you’re hoping to tenderize the meat as well then it’s even more beneficial for it to take on a good proportion of the liquid.

How much the meat absorbs or gets covered is reliant on a few factors including:

  • How long you leave the meat to marinate
  • The type of meat
  • How big the cut is
  • The total surface area
  • How many pieces you’re marinating together
  • If the meat has been pierced to aid in marinating

Is Marinated Meat Healthy?

Marinating meat is a great way to add extra flavor and improve the texture of the meat without adding too much in the way of extra fat, salt, sugars, or calories.

If you use fresh, low-calorie ingredients instead of buying a bottle at the store then you can make a very healthy marinade just to your liking. You can still infuse a whole lot of extra taste into what is sometimes a fairly tasteless slab of meat, especially when you have a cheaper cut.

Some low-calorie marinade ingredient ideas:

  • Spices (cumin, paprika, pepper, etc.)
  • Herbs (parsley, basil, cilantro, etc.)
  • Soy sauce
  • Vinegar
  • Citrus Juice
  • Hot Sauce
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Mustard

Higher calorie marinade ingredients include oils and ingredients high in sugar like honey.

Final Thoughts On Counting Calories In Marinade

I hope you’ve found my guide on how to work out the caloric content of your marinade useful and that I’ve helped you decide if it’s worth keeping track of how much ends up being absorbed by the meat.

Just to recap, unless you’re using a commercial brand, the easiest method is to calculate the overall nutritional values using the WebMD resource I mentioned and then just divide it by a third.

This will give you a fairly decent estimate that will be good enough for most people.

For a shop-bought mixture just check the nutritional information on the label to get the caloric content and then measure out your quantity to work out a total. Use this figure to divide by a third and get an idea of how many calories you have added to your dish.

I love marinades as they are a healthy way to really add to or enhance the flavors in the meat. If you use a recipe with citrus juices or vinegar they also really help to tenderize tougher meat making them less chewy and easier to eat. See my article on marinating meat with lime juice.

Save money by buying those cheaper cuts of meat and start marinating now. You won’t regret it!

Tom

Hey, I'm Tom. I set up Boss The Kitchen to start answering the thousands of questions people have while cooking. For me, the kitchen is my happy place and I hope to help other people with the knowledge I've gained along the way.

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