How do meat tenderizers work?

Papain meat tenderizer is extracted from papaya.

How a meat tenderizer works depends on whether it is an enzymatic tenderizer or a hand tool. The first type breaks the bonds between cells in a piece of meat on a chemical level, while the second breaks the bonds using force. There are also several other substances that can be used to make meat more tender, including beer, ginger, and vinegar, which work by breaking cellular bonds. While any type of meat can be softer, tougher cuts like brisket, lamb brisket, and steak tend to do better as they have more connections to break.


Ficin, a meat tenderizer, is derived from figs.

Enzymatic meat tenderizers are made of proteolytic enzymes called proteases, which break the peptide bonds between amino acids found in complex proteins. This makes the meat more tender, as one of the main things that holds the meat together is the protein collagen complex. The most common types of enzyme softeners are bromelain, which is made from pineapple; papain, which is made from papaya; actinidin, which is made from kiwis; and ficin, which is made from figs. When sprinkled on raw meat, they can soften it in minutes, but can make it tender if left too long. They can be used in marinades or independently.

Mechanical Tools

The meat can be flattened or broken up with a specialized kitchen utensil in the shape of a sledgehammer or hammer.

There are also mechanical meat tenderizers that look like mallets or hammers with a rough, pointed surface that is placed over the meat. When the spines hit the meat, the force breaks the muscle fibers and collagen bonds, making it softer. Depending on the thickness of the meat and the toughness of the cut, a person may have to beat it for several minutes to make it tender enough. These tools can also be used to flatten the meat to make schnitzel, tiny steak, or other dishes that need very thin or even pieces of meat.

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Alternative Tenderizers

Various types of meat.

Other products can be used to improve the texture of meat, even if they are not typically sold as meat tenderizers. This mainly includes acidic products such as ginger and tomatoes, as well as acidic beverages such as coffee, beer and soda. They also work by breaking the bonds that hold meat cells together, but they do so with acid rather than enzymes. Baking soda and fermented dairy products such as yogurt can also soften meat enzymatically, as can using the fruits that many meat tenderizers are made from – pineapples, papayas, kiwis and figs.


Actinidin meat tenderizer is made from kiwis.

While most meat tenderizers are effective, it is important to use them correctly to achieve the desired effect. Acidic and enzymatic substances should not be used with metal pans as they can react and affect the flavor or color of the meat. Also, enzymatic softeners have a temperature at which they become inactive, but if not reached during cooking, they will continue to work. Papain, for example, will not be inactivated by cooking a steak until rare and will continue to soften leftovers, making them pasty.

Pros and cons of bidding

A green papaya.

Tenderizing the meat can make it more tender and improve its texture. It also makes slicing easier and can often reduce cooking time. Also, it may be necessary that some recipes that call for the meat to be the same thickness can ensure that the meat cooks evenly. Despite this, using tenderizers for too long or on meat that is already tender can make it unpleasantly fluffy, and it can be difficult to predict how different ingredients in a recipe interact with enzymatic or acidic tenderizers. To get good results with this process, it’s usually best to understand the recommended time to use each substance, consider any reactions you may have with oils or cooking utensils, and choose cuts of meat that contain a lot of collagen, such as shank, brisket, neck. or ribs.

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