12 Unhealthiest Store-Bought Chicken Marinades

chicken marinade bottles
chicken marinade bottles - Static Media

Despite its versatility and quick-cooking nature, chicken is the meat most people mess up. Dry, bland, and far too plain chicken is an all-too-common problem at every sort of dining table. However, the right marinade can elevate your chicken from flavorless, chewy mush into a saucy teriyaki bowl, juicy BBQ, or even a spicy jerk dish. The secret for a perfect chicken marinade is simple enough, in fact; an acid like lemon juice or a dry spice rub both go a long way to season and tenderize chicken.

Store-bought marinades cut down on the cooking time and elbow grease needed even further, which is why so many people buy bottled versions over making theirs homemade. What seems like the easy way out can negatively impact your health, however. Packaged marinades can contain more sodium, added sugars, saturated fats, and processed ingredients than you might think. Even 1 to 2 tablespoons of most marinades can pack a significant amount of eyebrow-raising elements.

We examined labels of popular store-bought marinade brands like Great Value and Lawry's to see which chicken marinades are the unhealthiest; check the end of this article for more info on our methodology. The result is this comprehensive list of marinades to avoid on your next grocery run -- or at least purchase fairly infrequently.

Read more: The Healthiest Fast Food Chains In The U.S.

1. Badia Cilantro Lime & Garlic Marinade & Dressing

badia cilantro lime and garlic marinade
badia cilantro lime and garlic marinade - Badia

Badia's marinades and spices are a reliable choice among consumers. Its Cilantro Lime & Garlic Marinade is advertised as an excellent option for meat, poultry, and seafood right on the bottle. But spare the nutrients and ingredients a glance to know what you're seasoning your food with and you might think twice about using it.

The serving size is 1 tablespoon, which contains 20 calories, 1 gram of fat, 180 milligrams of sodium, and 2 grams of sugar. But it's unlikely that a single tablespoon of marinade will be enough to marinate your chicken. A recipe on Badia's website for orange quinoa uses one cup of the Cilantro Lime & Garlic Marinade for 1 pound of shrimp, for example, which makes for a much higher calorie count and a lot more salt.

The ingredients aren't too nutritious either. Sugar is the second thing on the list, denoting its elevated quantity. Canola oil, which is a processed oil that can negatively impact health, artificial thickeners like xanthan gum, and preservatives like potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate are also present. Although these are commonly used in most packaged foods to prolong shelf life, they make up the bulk of the product here. Opt for a simple chicken marinade instead that combines pantry staples like garlic and vinegar for a juicy and flavorful dish.

2. Salamida Cornell Style Chicken BBQ Sauce

Salamida Cornell Style Chicken BBQ Sauce
Salamida Cornell Style Chicken BBQ Sauce - Salamida

Making the perfect BBQ chicken requires hours of marinating. If you're in a time crunch, the bottled marinades will have to do. Salamida has been making state fair-style marinades and sauces since 1976. Its Cornell Style Chicken BBQ sauce is branded as an all-natural, gluten-free option with no sugars or preservatives added. However, all-natural claims don't always mean healthy, as a single serving of the marinade has 25 calories. The bulk of them come from 2 1/2 grams of fat, of which 1/2 gram is saturated fat.

According to the American Heart Association, saturated fats should only make up 5 to 6% of your daily calories, as this type of fat increases the risk factors of heart disease when consumed in excess. The elevated fat content in this marinade is due to the presence of soybean oil. While the oil has some potential health benefits, there is reason to believe that consuming it in excess can give rise to chronic inflammation in the body.

The product also contains 190 milligrams of sodium and 83 milligrams of cholesterol -- all in just one tablespoon. It's not difficult to see how these numbers can add up when you use this sauce to season or marinate your chicken, as most recipes call for more than the recommended serving size.

3. Lawry's Herb & Garlic With Lemon Marinade

Lawry's Herb & Garlic With Lemon Marinade
Lawry's Herb & Garlic With Lemon Marinade - Lawry's

A common presence on grocery store shelves and a staple in many pantries, Lawry's products are beloved by many. The brand's Herb & Garlic marinade, however, is one product you should think twice about before picking up. A quick look at the bottle's nutrional information and ingredients reveal why it's one of the unhealthiest store-bought marinades you can buy.

A single serving (1 tablespoon) of this stuff has 10 calories. That's considerably lower than other marinades on this list, but what's concerning is its sodium level: 330 milligrams. A marinade brand ranking by Tasting Table found the marinade to taste quite salty and acidic, likely owing to this elevated sodium content, leaving little room for other flavors to shine through. Although this product has some natural ingredients like minced vegetables, the rest are processed ingredients like modified corn starch, thickeners (xanthan gum), and preservatives (potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate).

Considering that few will go with the recommended serving size, it's best to avoid using the marinade too frequently. Even Lawry's doesn't stick with its serving suggestions, as a recipe on the brand's website for chicken cordon bleu uses 1/2 cup of marinade for four small chicken breasts.

4. Great Value Caribbean-Style Jerk Marinade

Great Value Caribbean Jerk marinade
Great Value Caribbean Jerk marinade - Walmart

A classic Jamaican jerk dish relies on a pungent marinade and smoking meat over a fire. The peppers you need for jerk chicken include Scotch bonnet or habanero, which aren't necessarily available in most stores. Bottled marinades like Great Value's Caribbean-Style Jerk are convenient fixes to replicate juicy jerk flavors without the hassle of finding the right peppers and smoking the meat. However, be mindful of the marinade's label and how much of it you use, as the ingredients paint an unhealthy picture.

A single tablespoon serving has 25 calories, a whopping 380 milligrams of sodium, and 5 grams of sugar. These quantities are concerning for a few reasons. Firstly, the sugar in this marinade comes from high fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, obesity, and other health problems when overconsumed. Secondly, the sodium levels are excessive for the small serving size, as just 2 tablespoons of the marinade can amount to 760 milligrams, which is more than 1/4 of the American Heart Assocation's recommended upper limit of daily sodium intake of 2,300 milligrams. The ideal amount is 1,500 milligrams per day for adults.

The marinade also has small quantities of highly processed ingredients like modified food starch, caramel coloring which gives it an artificial brown hue, thickeners like xanthan gum, and preservatives. These ingredients have little nutritional value.

5. Great Value Lemon Pepper Marinade

Great Value Lemon Pepper Marinade
Great Value Lemon Pepper Marinade - Walmart

Walmart's Great Value is a brand most people gravitate towards for its affordable price tag. The most pocket-friendly marinades in this list are from Great Value, in fact, including the Lemon Pepper marinade. But before you pick a bottle, have a look at its nutrient info and long list of ingredients, which aren't as impressive as the price tag.

Every 1 tablespoon serving has 10 calories, of which 390 milligrams are sodium, and 1 gram is added sugar. Don't let the fewer calories fool you into adding more, as the levels of salt and processed sugar quickly add up. A look at the ingredients reveals the usual culprits responsible for these numbers: high fructose corn syrup and processed ingredients like modified starches, artificial thickeners, and preservatives.

Avoid tripping into the same mistakes everyone makes when trying to read food labels and read the entire ingredient list. If you do so, you'll notice a small amount of the preservative calcium disodium EDTA. This additive can cause digestive issues when consumed in excess, as it doesn't absorb well in our bodies.

6. Newman's Own Sesame Ginger Dressing

Newman's Own Sesame Ginger Dressing
Newman's Own Sesame Ginger Dressing - Newman's Own

If you're craving a bowl of crispy sesame chicken, it's not all that difficult to put together, especially with marinades like Newman's Sesame Ginger. But you might do a double take at the nutrition label, as it's filled with a lot more than, well, ginger and sesame. The 2 tablespoon serving size has 35 calories, of which 1 1/2 grams are fats, 290 milligrams are sodium, and 4 grams are added sugars.

The elevated sodium levels aren't due to salt alone, as the addition of soy sauce in any product makes it a salt bomb. There's also pineapple juice concentrate and sugar to thank for the added sugar levels, and both sesame and canola oil for the fat content. It should be noted, though, that while excessive canola oil in the diet negatively impacts health, sesame oil hasn't been linked to health concerns other than weight gain.

The marinade also contains less than 2% of xanthan gum, a food additive used for thickening, which can cause digestive issues if 15 grams or more are consumed. Although you're unlikely to consume such a large quantity in this marinade alone, the product is present in many packaged foods, so it's important to be mindful of its presence.

7. P.F. Chang's Orange Chicken Marinade And Cooking Sauce

P.F. Chang's Orange Chicken Marinade
P.F. Chang's Orange Chicken Marinade - P.F. Chang's

P.F. Chang's is known for classic dishes like sesame, orange, and spicy chicken, served in delectable sauces in a bowl of rice. The brand's packaged marinades bring the restaurant's beloved food to your table with minimal cooking needed. But while P.F. Chang's Orange Chicken marinade and sauce packets may appear like a simple dinner option for the family, the nutritional label will have you questioning the convenience.

The 1/4 cup serving size is larger than other marinades on this list, but packs in 120 calories to match. The calories account for 700 milligrams of sodium, 2 1/2 grams of fat, and 20 grams of added sugar per serving. The ingredients list isn't chock-full of additives or preservatives, but it's easy to identify their role in the nutritional facts: Soybean oil is responsible for the elevated fat content, excessive salt is from the soy sauce, and the sugar levels come from orange juice concentrate and regular sugar.

Additionally, package instructions to prepare the orange chicken use the entire pouch for a pound of chicken, which is three times the recommended serving size. This is especially unhealthy for frequent consumption.

8. Absurd Chicken Marinade

Absurd chicken marinade bottles
Absurd chicken marinade bottles - Absurd Foods

Many local brands have made their way to major store's shelves. Absurd Foods is a Nevada-based brand specializing in marinades. However, locally prepared food doesn't always mean nutritious, as a single serving (30 ml) of Absurd's chicken marinade packs 25 calories, 450 milligrams of sodium, and 5 grams of sugar.

The marinade has ingredients like granulated sugar and apple juice concentrate, which are responsible for the sugar content, and plain salt, which accounts for the sodium level. There's also xanthan gum for thickening, caramel color, and sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate as preservatives.

These two preservatives are safe in controlled quantities, but excessive consumption of sodium benzoate has potentially been linked to inflammation, ADHD, and obesity. Potassium sorbate is mostly safe, carrying only the risk of contamination with other chemicals in food manufacturing. As with xanthan gum, these preservatives are widely present in most foods, so it's necessary to track your consumption.

9.Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki Sauce

Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki Sauce
Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki Sauce - Soy Vay

Soy Vay's marinade makes it easy to whip up chicken teriyaki in minutes -- but it relies a little too heavily on soy sauce to carry the flavor. Its Veri Veri Teriyaki sauce lists soy sauce as the first ingredient, accounting for an eye-popping 580 milligrams of sodium per 1 tablespoon serving. That's a fourth of your recommended upper level of sodium intake out the window. Levels like these are concerning since excess sodium can increase blood pressure and damage heart health.

There's also 1 gram of fat and 7 grams of added sugars per serving. Its saving grace are the few simple ingredients, including ginger, garlic, onions, and sesame seeds. However, to achieve the right teriyaki flavor in your dish, the 1 tablespoon serving won't suffice. Soy Vay doesn't try to hide this fact; a recipe for udon noodle salad with teriyaki chicken on its website recommends using 1 1/2 cups of the marinade for 3 pounds of chicken.

10. Tony Chachere's Creole Style Chicken Marinade

Tony Chachere's Creole Style Chicken Marinade
Tony Chachere's Creole Style Chicken Marinade - Tony Chachere's

If you're unfamiliar with the real difference between Creole and Cajun food, you're not alone -- the terms are used almost interchangeably. Brands like Tony Chachere's brings them together in its products, with its Creole-Style Chicken marinade combining Italian herbs and Cajun spices. The 30-minute marinade seems like a quick and easy option for a flavorful chicken meal, but like most marinades on this list, convenience doesn't promise quality.

In a single tablespoon serving there are 40 calories, 4 grams of fat (including 1/2 a gram of saturated fat), and 440 milligrams of sodium. Soybean oil is listed as the second ingredient, accounting for the inflated fat content, and salt is present every few ingredients, begging the question of why a chicken marinade relies so heavily on sodium for flavor. Other ingredients include high fructose corn syrup and juice concentrates contributing to 1 gram of added sugar per serving, as well as xanthan gum and preservatives.

Even if you're cooking for one, you'll probably use more than the recommended serving size. A recipe on Tony Chachere's website for Cajun chicken fajita bowls uses 1/3 cup of the marinade for a single chicken breast. If you want to experiment with this cuisine, try a homemade Creole seasoning recipe which uses simple ingredients to make a spice blend that'll amp up your chicken.

11. Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce

Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce
Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce - Sweet Baby Ray's

A good BBQ sauce goes a long way towards seasoning your chicken. It often serves as a marinade unto itself, owing to its strong flavor profile. However, BBQ sauces like Sweet Baby Ray's are closer in nutrition to a dessert than a marinade. Each 2 tablespoon serving has 17 total grams of sugars of which 16 grams are added sugar. The first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup. The list goes on to include pineapple juice concentrate, molasses, corn syrup, and regular sugar. This accounts for more than half of the American Heart Association's recommended added sugar intake levels.

Sugar isn't the only concerning element in this BBQ sauce, as it also contains 290 milligrams of sodium per serving. There's also modified corn starch, caramel coloring, and sodium benzoate as a preservative in the mix. Against this backdrop, the few natural ingredients like tomato paste, garlic, tamarind, and celery seed become lost, and do little for the overall nutrition of the sauce.

12. Kraft Zesty Italian Salad Dressing And Marinade

Kraft Zesty Italian Salad Dressing
Kraft Zesty Italian Salad Dressing - Kraft

Many people purchase Kraft products for familiarity alone. However, ease of availability and long-standing presence on store shelves shouldn't entirely influence your purchase decisions -- or at least not when it comes to Kraft Italian Dressing, which doubles as a marinade. The brand claims consumers will feel good about using this sauce, as it doesn't possess any high fructose corn syrup and only 60 calories per serving. We'd argue that 60 calories from just two tablespoons is worth a closer look -- especially since there are 4 1/2 grams of fat (1/2 a gram saturated), 300 milligrams of sodium, and 2 grams of added sugars in the same serving.

A blend of soybean and canola oil makes up the fat content of this sauce, while plain salt is responsible for the sodium levels. Small amounts of xanthan gum and preservatives like sodium benzoate and calcium disodium EDTA are also present. Considering the heavily processed nature of this sauce, you won't want to go above the recommended serving size, and ideally consume it infrequently.


raw chicken being marinated
raw chicken being marinated - Nerudol/Getty Images

In our search for the unhealthiest store-bought chicken marinades, we carefully examined the nutritional information of each product. We kept a particularly sharp eye out for inflated levels of sodium and added sugars, and compared them to the American Heart Association's daily recommended levels. Saturated fat, which poses a risk to heart health when consumed excessively, was also considered.

After carefully scrutinizing labels and researching every element in the ingredient lists, we highlighted preservatives, additives, and artificial colors and flavorings, which are processed ingredients that bear low nutritional value and are sometimes calorie dense. Additionally, we considered recommended serving sizes, which were pretty much always much smaller than what consumers normally use to marinate chicken.

Static Media owns and operates Mashed and Tasting Table.

Read the original article on Mashed.