Brining and curing – they’re both ancient methods of preserving food, that can also be used to infuse flavor. So, what’s the difference?
Brine: water saturated or strongly impregnated with salt; a salt and water solution for pickling.
Cure: the act or a method of preserving meat, fish, etc, by smoking, salting, or the like; to prepare (meat, fish, etc) for preservation by salting, drying, etc.
The term “curing” refers to a wide range of methods to preserve and flavor food. Brining is therefore a form of curing, that specifically includes a salt water solution – and, pickling is a form of brining.
Although both methods preserve and flavor foods, generally speaking curing is applied for preservation purposes, while brining is more about seasoning or flavoring the food.
Brining is very similar to marinating. CookShack.com explains the difference between brining and marinating: “Brining involves salt and osmosis to exchange the fluid in the brine with the water inside the meat. Marinating [uses] the acidity to break down the texture of the meat. You can actually do both if your [marinade] has salt in it.”
When brining meats, the salt water and additional flavorings (herbs, spices, sugar, etc.) are absorbed into the individual elements of the meat, allowing for a more flavorful dining experience.
As with brining, curing works through osmosis, but in a different way. Curing simply eliminates water from the cells in order to stop the growth of bacteria that would cause food spoilage. With brining, the water is absorbed back into the meat (or poultry or fish), thus bringing a juicier and tastier finish.
Some foods such as bacon or salami must always be cured to avoid spoilage – this reinforces the idea that curing is typically used for preserving foods, while brining is more about flavoring dishes. This is of course, not always the case, as salmon for instance can be dry-cured.
Both curing and brining are rather time-consuming. After the food is treated with the brine or cure solution, they must be left out for a period of time. For instance, an entire turkey will take 6 to 12 hours to rest before it’s ready to be cooked.
The process of preserving foods has been practiced since early Roman times, and both brining and curing are still used by chefs and home cooks today.
While curing is a necessary process for certain foods, brining is less essential. In fact, some maintain that we should never brine at all.
To recap: Curing is the act of preserving foods through salting. Brining is a type of curing, using a salt water solution, often with additional seasonings and such for flavor.