Replace meat tenderizer powder with any of the 14 natural substitutes listed here. These natural meat tenderizers not only produce a similar effect, but also help avoid the possible side effects of unwanted elements like MSG and salt present in most commercial products.
Did You Know?
Meat shouldn’t be marinated in an acidic liquid like apple cider vinegar, wine, or lemon juice for more than a couple of hours, since the acidity will then make it tough. If the marination time needs to be extended for more flavor, the marinade should include oil, rather than an acidic liquid.
Commercially produced meat tenderizer powders contain many undesirable food additives, like preservatives, salt, and Monosodium glutamate (MSG). Although the FDA has announced MSG as a ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ substance, several potential side effects have been reported for it. Excessive consumption of MSG can result in headaches, swelling in the face/throat, tingling or burning sensation in the face, neck, or other areas, facial tightness, rapid heartbeat, numbness, etc. Excessive intake of salt can cause heart attacks, strokes, and kidney diseases through high blood pressure. So, it is always better to consume natural food products as meat tenderizers.
You can use natural fruit juices that are as effective as a meat tenderizer powder. Enzymes and acids present in fruit pulps/juices help break down tough connective tissues. These can make the meat tender and juicy.
Natural Substitutes for Meat Tenderizer Powder
You can use a handy tenderizer like a meat mallet (wooden or metallic instrument) for pounding the meat. Cut the meat into small slices and cover each slice with a plastic sheet before using the mallet on it. The pounding action flattens the meat, and breaks apart the fibers and connective tissues present in it.
Both dry heat (such as from a grill) and wet heat (such as in a braise) can break down the connective tissues and make the meat tender. Slow cooking (stewing – meat cooked for hours in a liquid, braising – meat cooked on a bed of vegetables, spices, or herbs) can make the meat ‘fork tender.’ However, the tenderized beef should be cooked rapidly with high heat cooking methods.
Most powdered meat tenderizers contain the enzyme ‘papain’, derived from papayas. So, cut a papaya, remove the seeds, scoop the flesh, mash it, and apply it over the surface of the meat. You can use 2 teaspoons of the pulp for every pound of meat. If you want, you can soak the meat in papaya juice. Forking (piercing the meat with a fork several times on all sides) promotes an even distribution of the fruit enzymes up to the core of the meat. You will need to cook the meat within a couple of hours, otherwise, the enzymes would over over-tenderize the meat (break down almost all connective tissues in the meat). The meat will be squishy and almost slim-like.
Wash a raw papaya, peel off the green skin, and place it in a blender. For every two tablespoons of skin, add 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Blend it and use 2 tablespoons of the paste for every pound of meat. Gently massage the paste onto the meat. Heating the meat (at least 140°F) will help activate the enzymes, but the enzymes would not work if the temperature crosses 160°F. So, heat it carefully. If you want, store the remaining paste in the refrigerator for later use.
Another common enzyme that is found in commercially produced meat tenderizers is ‘bromelain.’ It is obtained from pineapples. So, cut a pineapple, remove the rind, put the wedges in a blender, and apply the pulp over the surface of the meat. You can pour pineapple juice over the meat and refrigerate it for 1 – 2 hours, depending upon the type of meat. Do not use canned or cooked pineapple, as the enzymes present in the fruit do not function after processing (heating).
Lemon, orange, or lime juice are also good alternatives.
Yellow Kiwi Fruit
The enzyme ‘actinidin’ present in kiwifruit helps break down the connective tissues in meat without turning it into mush. Kiwi pulp is an easy-to-make, great tasting replacement for pineapple pulp.
Figs contain the enzyme ‘ficin’, which can work as a meat tenderizer. You can top the meat with different fruit slices.
These can be considered as the best meat tenderizers. They are more tenderizing than fruit juices or other acidic marinades. Traditionally, yogurt is used to marinate meat in Indian cuisine. Similarly, buttermilk is used to tenderize chicken before frying. When it comes to Italian cuisine, milk-braised meats are more tender than those cooked with wine or tomatoes.
Vinegar (balsamic, apple cider, etc.), beer (contains alpha acids and tannins), tomato juice, soy or Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, and wine give similar effects. White wine is good for chicken, shrimp, and fish, while red wine is good for beef.
Foods Rich in Enzymes
Traditionally, in many cuisines, ginger, asafoetida, and garlic are used as meat tenderizers. You can rub the paste over the raw beef and let it sit for at least 12 hours. The mixture would permeate into the meat, and would add flavor to it.
You can combine the foods mentioned above and marinate the meat for about 10 – 12 hours, depending upon the strength of the marinade and type of meat. Marinades contain an acidic ingredient along with herbs and spices. Even a cup or two of strong black tea can be used for marination. Tea and red wine contain tannins which make the meat tender. The process of marination makes the meat soft and flavorful.
Just spread table salt over the piece of meat (for example, 1 inch thick steak). After an hour or so, it will become tender. Rinse the meat with water before grilling or baking. This will remove excess salt.
Thinly slice the meat across the grain. Sprinkle baking soda over the pieces of meat, rub it gently, and let it sit (refrigerated) for several hours. You could also apply a baking soda/water paste over the slices. Let it marinate for several hours. Rinse well before cooking, to remove all the baking soda. If you think that this leaves a bitter/salty aftertaste, you could add a small amount of baking soda to another marinade for the same purpose. There is no need to rinse off the marinade before cooking. Baking soda is good for thinly sliced meat, seafood, or poultry.
The tenderizing time would depend on the type of the meat, age, and cut. Avoid placing acidic and enzymatic substances in metal cookware, since they can react and affect the flavor and color of the meat. Use glassware instead. See to it that the temperature that is required to activate (and also to deactivate, otherwise the enzyme will continue to work and make the meat mushy) is reached during cooking.