One of the more curious specimens gathering dust in your supermarket’s spice aisle has a rather intriguing name: “Meat Tenderizer.” The most common brand you’ll see in stores is Adolph’s (owned by McCormick) and a look at the ingredients doesn’t reveal too much about what the stuff actually is: salt, sugar, corn starch, bromelain. So what exactly is this powdery substance? And does it actually tenderize meat?
The primary active ingredient in this tenderizer is (obviously) the bromelain; some other brands of tenderizer will include something called papain. Both of these are natural enzymes; bromelain is derived from pineapple and papain from papaya (another one is ficin, derived from figs). Enzymes like these help to de-nature the proteins in the meat, and they actually can make steaks tenderer if used properly.
In order to get the most out of meat tenderizer, it’s best to add some to a marinade, then let the steaks soak in it for a few hours. Be careful, though, because the enzymes don’t stop working until the meat is cooked, so if you forget about it for a few days your meat can turn to mush.
If you’re okay with your steaks taking on a slightly tropical flavor, you can also forego the powdered stuff entirely and use fresh papaya or pineapple to marinate your tough steaks. It’s best to blend or juice the fruit yourself before marinating; the canned or bottled stuff won’t have the same effect because the enzyme stops working once it’s heated.
If you’re sick and tired of eating tough steaks and are looking for even more ways to tenderize them, you can find more ways to make cheap steak tender and delicious here.