Is Brine Paleo And How Do You Make It?

turkey-brine.jpegIn its most basic form, brine is a solution of salt and water.  Traditionally used to preserve foods and age certain cheeses, brining nowadays is often done to add flavor and tenderness to meat.   Brining the Thanksgiving turkey has become particularly popular as it can turn a dry, flavorless bird that only gobs of gravy can make palatable into a moist and flavorful centerpiece of the holiday meal. 

Nutritional Value of Brine

The following values are based on a brine of salt and water:

  • Calories:  0
  • Total Fat: 0
  • Cholesterol:  0
  • Carbohydrate: 0
  • Protein:  0
  • Fiber:   0

Sodium:  It has been shown that meat can soak up 1600 mg of sodium per pound, or 400 mg of sodium per 4 oz serving.

Health Benefits of Brine

Brine ingredients are as diverse as there are recipes and in addition to salt, brine may contain fruit juice, broth, alcohol and even coffee, as well as sugar and all kinds of herbs, spices and flavorings.   Up to 10% of a brine solution can be absorbed into meat. Ingredients such as fruit juice and sugar will definitely add calories and have some impact on blood sugar.  However, if you are keeping it Paleo, you can leave these items out of your brine.  Salt is the one ingredient that has to stay.  During the brining process, salt diffuses into the cells of meat causing proteins to coagulate.  Water that has followed the salt into the cells via osmosis remains trapped during cooking resulting in a moist and tender product.

Common table salt is refined sea salt that has been processed to remove all minerals except sodium and chloride. Additives such as calcium silicate prevent sticking and clumping and iodine prevents goiters that result from iodine-deficiency, which prior to supplementation was common in certain areas of the United States.  Stabilizers, added to prevent degradation of the iodine include sodium bicarbonate, sodium thiosulfate or dextrose.  Refined salt is 60% chloride and 40% sodium.

Sea salt is produced through evaporation of ocean water or water from saltwater lakes and retains trace levels of mineral salts including calcium, magnesium and potassium.  Sea salt is 55% chloride, 31% sodium and 15% mineral salts.  Most sea salt does not contain additives.

The typical American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium a day, which comes mainly from processed foods. The RDA for sodium is less than 2,300 mg (1 teaspoon) a day or even less at 1,500 mg a day if you’re 51 or older, or if you are African American, or have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.  Although reducing sodium has been shown to decrease blood pressure a few points and high sodium intakes are associated with osteoporosis, kidney stones, stomach cancer, stroke, Menierre’s Syndrome (ear ringing) motion sickness and asthma, studies on the efficacy of salt reduction are mixed and its unclear if reducing salt to recommended levels is universally beneficial.

Where to Buy Brine

Brining kits are available in just about all major supermarkets and home stores during the winter holiday season.  They are available online throughout the year.

Should I Eat Brine?  Is Brine Paleo?

Yes, brine is Paleo if the brine ingredients are Paleo.  The Paleo diet emphasizes nutrient dense foods that remain as close to their natural state as possible on their journey from farm to table or as in the case of salt, from seabed deposit or lakebed deposit to table.  Processed and refined brine ingredients such as sugar and refined salt including Kosher salt, are not Paleo.  If you buy pre-packaged brine, read the label carefully to make sure it contains only Paleo ingredients including sea salt.

How To Make Your Own Brine

The following recipe is enough to brine up to an 18 pound turkey.  If you have a very large turkey, add ½ cup sea salt for every additional gallon of water needed to fully submerge your bird.  To save room in your refrigerator, you can brine your turkey in doubled up turkey size oven bags or brining bags.  You’ll probably require less brine for this as tying the bags tightly round the turkey brings less brine in contact with more bird.

*Do not brine a Kosher turkey or a pre-packaged turkey that has salt listed in the ingredients.  These turkeys have already been brined.

**Use ¼ to ½ the recipe for brining chicken or turkey breasts.

Thanksgiving Turkey Brine

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 gallon ice water
  • 1 cup coarse sea salt
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 5 sprigs thyme
  • 1 handful fresh sage leaves
  • 1 handful fresh parsley leaves
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbs whole peppercorns
  • 3 cloves garlic

Directions:

  • In a large stockpot on the stove, combine 1 gallon of water, sea salt, herbs, spices and garlic.  Turn on the heat to medium high and stir until salt is dissolves.
  • Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  • Pour the mixture into a pot or a bucket large enough to hold your turkey and brine and stir in the ice water.
  • After removing the neck and giblets, wash the turkey and submerge fully in the brine, breast side down.  Make sure the cavity is filled so the turkey doesn’t float.
  • Place in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
  • Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry before roasting for better browning.
  • Discard leftover brine.
Sally Barden Johnson

Sally Johnson, RDN, LD is a registered and licensed dietitian and health coach. She is an avid CrossFitter and enjoys working with clients to find the best nutritional solutions within a Paleo/Primal framework to solve their health issues. She also enjoys spending time with her family. She can be found on Instagram at instagram.com/sallyjohnsonrd.