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Is Meat Tenderizer Powder Safe to Use?

Is Meat Tenderizer Powder Safe to Use?

Meat tenderizers, also known as tenderizing salts, are dusted over the outer surface of the meat before cooking. But is it safe to use meat tenderizer powder? Read this NutriNeat article to know the answer to this question, and more.
Leena Palande
Did You Know?
The rubber-like elastic fibers which hold the strands of muscle tissue in meat together are made up of a complex structural protein called collagen - the same protein from which gelatin is derived.

The frequently used muscles of an animal are relatively tougher. It is difficult to chew such tough pieces of meat. Long, slow, moist-heat cooking methods (braising, boiling, and stewing) help loosen the connective tissues and make the meat soft and delicious. The muscles that are less used are tender. So, some cuts are tender while some are tough. Tender cuts can undergo dry-heat methods like sautéing, grilling, roasting, and broiling.
Usually, a meat dish involves marinating the tough cuts for 8 - 12 hours. The lengthy process of marination not only tenderizes the meat, but it also adds flavor to it. Marination helps improve the texture of the meat by breaking down the connective tissues that make it tough. It makes the meat juicy and tender. Direct grilling or broiling of tough cuts of meat, without tenderizing, may reduce its flavor and make it dry too. If you are in hurry, and if you don't have time for soaking the tougher cuts (like a brisket, flank, rump, round, shank, lamb breast, and chuck steak), you can use a meat tenderizer powder.
Is Meat Tenderizer Powder Safe?
Commercially prepared meat tenderizers are usually safe, but they contain various types of preservatives and food additives. These undesirable ingredients can lead to certain side effects. Besides, certain natural and easily available substances like baking soda and fruit pulp, when sprinkled or applied over meat, can make it tender. Pineapple, kiwi, tomato, or papaya juice contain acids/enzymes which help break down the tough fibers in meat. Instead of relying on chemicals, you can also pound the meat with a wooden or metal mallet, and break the tough muscle fibers using force.
Ingredients in Meat Tenderizers
Commercially prepared meat tenderizers contain salt and certain proteolytic enzymes called proteases, that help break down the peptide bonds between the amino acids present in complex proteins. Salt itself is a great meat tenderizer. The enzymes break apart tough connective tissues and fibers present in the meat. These enzymatic meat tenderizers come in a powdered form.

Most brands contain an enzyme called 'papain', which is obtained from papaya.

Some brands contain 'bromelain', which is derived from pineapples. It is often added to readily available items of meat, like meatballs.

The enzyme 'actinidin' is made from kiwis, while 'ficin' is made from figs.

The powder also contains preservatives and food additives like MSG.
Directions to Use
You can use 1 teaspoon of the tenderizer for 1 pound of meat. Sprinkle the powder over the outer surface of the uncooked, cleaned meat.

Forking (piercing the meat with a fork) promotes penetration of the enzyme into the meat.

There is no need to keep the meat aside. You can cook it immediately.

You can also add the tenderizer to a seasoning. The process of marination would make the meat tender. However, the enzymatic tenderizer is likely to make the meat soggy when left on for too long.
Pros and Cons
One of the main benefits of a meat tenderizer is that it can impart the desired smoothness to your dish when you don't have time to punch the meat or marinate it. The tenderizer improves the texture of the meat, and makes it easy to cut, cook, and eat. It reduces the preparation and cooking time significantly. Moreover, the meat cooks evenly.

But there are certain disadvantages too.

Enzymatic tenderizers do not work at very cold and very hot temperatures (temperature for optimal papain activity: 149 °Fahrenheit). They work only to a limited extent at room temperature (active papain range: 140 °F to 160 °F).

Experts say that the tenderizers (acids and enzymes) penetrate the surface of meat at the rate of mere millimeters per day. So, cooked meat may continue to be rigid at the core.

Experts say that the tenderizers work well only when injected. Many slaughterhouses inject the enzyme 'papain' into the animals a few minutes before slaughtering. Thus, the enzyme, carried to the connective tissues through the blood is active when the meat is made. This way, the meat can be softened in an even manner. The softness so attained is more appreciable than that attained with peppered papain. However, the cooked meat usually turns mushy, because the enzyme separates (breaks) much of the connective tissue with almost no firmness in the meat.

Enzyme-treated meat usually has a mushy, slightly slimy surface. The products that are tenderized in advance with enzymatic tenderizers may impart an awful flavor to your completed food.
Side Effects
As explained above, a meat tenderizer, if let work extra, can destroy the flavor and firmness of the meat.

Meat tenderizers may interact with different ingredients in a dish, and may affect its taste and flavor.

The enzymes may react with oils or even with the cookware (especially metals), and may prove to be harmful for health.

According to the American Latex Allergy Association, those who are allergic to latex, a natural rubber, may have an allergic reaction to papaya or pineapple. So, some people can be allergic to papain and bromelain. They may suffer from swelling and pain in the throat, itchy skin, breathing difficulty, etc., after the consumption of enzyme-treated meat.

Most meat tenderizers contain monosodium glutamate (MSG, a food additive, flavor enhancer) and large amounts of sodium. As you know, excessive consumption of sodium can affect heart health seriously. Some people, especially those diagnosed with asthma, may suffer from headache, nausea, and flushing of the neck and face, after consumption of monosodium glutamate.

The FDA has classified MSG as a food ingredient that is 'generally recognized as safe'. However, people may suffer from chest pain, nausea, vomiting, weakness, headache, flushing, sweating, rapid heartbeat, tingling or burning sensation in the face, neck, and other areas, numbness, facial pressure or tightness, etc., after consumption of foods containing MSG. Usually, the symptoms are mild, and would go away on their own after some time.
When used in moderation, meat tenderizers usually don't cause any side effects. Reading the product label thoroughly can help prevent any issues. The label provides information about the correct amount of the powder to be used for one pound of meat. The enzyme papain, is in fact used in preparations of various remedies for indigestion. So, a meat tenderizer that contains such enzymes should not lead to any side effects. However, you can always substitute products that contain unwanted elements like salt, preservatives and MSG, with other easily available natural products. If possible, instead of buying tougher cuts of meat, buy the tender ones.