Meat tenderizer comes in many forms and is used to make tough pieces of meat, softer and easier to chew and eat. Many people often wonder what does meat tenderizer do to meat and how it actually works. This brief guide will uncover some of the mysteries of how these natural enzymes transform meat into succulent and easy to consume food.
How does meat tenderizer work?
To start things off, the best way to start is with a simple question. So- how often do you find fruit gelatin that contains real fruit flavor? Obviously, it will be pretty easy to go to your local store and find assorted jello flavors. If you look at the ingredients list, you might be very surprised to find that all of the fruit flavors are actually artificial flavors.
Even the fruit chews such as gummy bears and other gelatin-based fruit snacks, and have replaced the gelatin with a substitute. While most people might assume this is to make them more Vegan-friendly, you would be half right -at best… The real reason is that many real fruit flavors also contain the same enzymes that make meat tenderizers work. This is why meat tenderizer enzymes would otherwise dissolve gelatin if they contain real fruit flavors.
With that being said, this is another reason why you don’t see jams and jellies that contain select fruits unless they’ve been cooked with heat. This typically kills the natural enzymes in these fruits that might otherwise prevent gelatin from curing. There is another trick that most home jelly canners know and this is to add agar-agar to counter these fruit enzymes. This is also a good substitute for pectin which helps gelatin to solidify.
Fruits that naturally have high levels of bromelain include pineapple, papaya, yellow kiwifruit, and even figs. Yet most people would never expect that lemons, limes, apple cider, apple vinegar, ginger, garlic, banana peels, and tomato juice have enzymes that are also used as meat tenderizers. Uncommon meat tenderizers may further call for beer, wine, coffee, tea, cola, buttermilk, yogurt, and baking soda.
There are some cases where fruits that you would never suspect of being a meat tenderizer are used such as banana peels or avocado oil. As you can expect, salt plays a very important role in activating and helping to penetrate meat so it can become tenderized. In the next section, you will find out what does meat tenderizer do to the meat itself.
How do enzymes tenderize meat?
The active enzymes that can tenderize meat are primarily bromelain and papain and are from two common fruits. Bromelain comes from pineapple and papain comes from papaya. More specifically, green papaya is used to get the best effect. Many people also use ripe papaya which will take longer because the papain is not as concentrated. This is made into a paste and spread over the meat so the enzymes can get to work.
With pineapples, the bromelain comes directly from fresh pineapple juice and not from processed pineapple that you buy in a container at the store. Meat is placed into a marinade with a bit of salt to activate the bromelain further. Salt allows bromelain to travel through the meaty tissue and muscle much faster. This is why so many marinades call for salty marinades such as soy sauce, Worcester sauce, fish sauce, and any seasoning liquid that contains salt.
Within meat fiber, (which is mostly what you can call muscle), there are connective tissues that contain tough filaments that make the muscle connect to each other. When the enzyme is introduced into the muscle, it starts to attack the filaments and starts to turn them into a gelatin-like material. It also works on tough muscles to make the meat softer to chew. The whole process starts to speed up even faster once you start to cook the meat.
Just like slow cooking in a crockpot or Dutch oven, tough meat cooked in salty water mixed with wine and spices will tenderize the toughest of meats in just a few hours. For barbecue, low-cost cuts of meat such as brisket are full of connective tissue that is extremely tough! It can be softened which a simple salt and pepper rub and slow-cooked for several hours to achieve softened meat that is tender as can be.
But for most people who don’t have 15 to 18 hours to slow cook and tend to a tough-as-nails brisket, a meat tenderizer will achieve the same effect in as little as 2 or 3 hours! As for different types of meat like chicken, fish, pork, or beef, some cuts don’t need more than half an hour to become adequately marinated before being cooked. Depending on the thickness of the type of meat you’re cooking, determines the length of time meat is left to marinate.
What is the purpose of marinating?
It should be no surprise that we live in a time where the price of meat is getting to be very expensive. This isn’t a new trend, it’s actually has been a tradition that is deeply cultural that goes back to nearly the creation of the US itself. It has also been a matter of what kind of meat was available for those who are raising animals, and where that meat was used. The choice cuts of meat were more than likely sold for the highest value.
The lesser pieces of meat were most likely the pieces that could not be sold at a profit and would be eaten as soon as possible or salted so they would be preserved. Salting has long been an old technique used to keep meat for long periods until it could be eaten. When they were ready to be eaten, even salted meat would need to be placed into a marinade or water to rehydrate the meat.
For anything that was still fresh and happened to be a cut of meat that is very tough, it required a marinade that uses natural enzymes to soften the tougher filaments and meat tissue. This will include several natural tenderizers that have been known from the earliest times and were shared in cookbooks that were brought from Europe and were reprinted in The Kentucky Housewife which was first printed in 1841.
The back of this cookbook includes dozens of marinating methods for problematic and tough cuts of meat that need meat tenderizing. As it happens to be the same situation to this very day, many people are buying lower-priced cuts of meat to save money. This means that meat must be tenderized so it can be enjoyed just as much as pricier cuts of meat would be enjoyed.
The results and difference are really cost-effective for savings and flavor that typically tastes better than more expensive cuts of meat. So what does meat tenderizer do for your cheaper cuts? The choice is obvious when it comes to using meat tenderizers.