How Does Meat Tenderizer Work?

Jul 19, 2011 10:01 am

The Food Scientist answers vexing food questions

photo: <a href="">VancityAllie</a> on Flickr
photo: VancityAllie on Flickr
To tenderize beef, chefs often use powdered meat tenderizer to break down the enzymes and get the toughness out

How does meat tenderizer work?
No, I’m not talking about that bulky mallet. Although it gets the job done, it’s only good for one thing — pounding meat. No, I’m talking about powdered meat tenderizer. This is one of those things that seems too good to be true, but it totally works. As a substitute for brute strength, meat-tenderizing powder uses basic biochemistry to beat even your toughest meats into tender submission without the effort of using a mallet.

How does tenderizing powder work?
Much the same way enzymes in the human body help you digest food, tenderizing powder acts enzymatically to break down the rubber-like elastic fibers that make less tender cuts of meat hard to swallow. These elastic fibers, which hold the strands of muscle tissue in meat together, are made up a protein called collagen — the same protein from which gelatin is derived from. Papain — found in papaya — and bromelain, found in pineapple — are two common anti-collagen enzymes used in many of the tenderizing powders you can buy in the grocery store.  

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