Meat Tenderizers

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Meat tenderizers are protein-digesting enzymes extracted from a number of plants, including papaya, pineapple, fig, kiwi, and ginger. They are available either in the original fruit or leaf, or purified and powdered for the shaker, diluted in salt and sugar. (Despite lore to the contrary, wine corks do not contain active enzymes and don’t tenderize octopus or other tough meats!) The enzymes act slowly at refrigerator or room temperature, and some five times faster between 140 and 160°F/60–70°C, so nearly all the tenderizing action takes place during cooking. The problem with tenderizers is that they penetrate into meat even more slowly than acids, a few millimeters per day, so that the meat surface tends to accumulate too much and get overly mealy, while the interior remains unaffected. The distribution can be improved by injecting the tenderizer into the meat.