Want to know how to use papaya as a meat tenderizer? Looking for a natural way to tenderize tough cuts of meat? You've come to the right place.
In this post, I'll share with you a very easy and tried-and-tested method for tenderizing meat. From selecting the perfect papaya (also known as pawpaw) to storing the papaya paste, I'll guide you through every step. So say goodbye to chewy, overcooked meat and hello to juicy, tender, and flavorful bites.
By the way, if you're big on kitchen/food-related tips and tricks, you may also like this post where I have shared the easiest way to peel garlic after testing almost every garlic peeling method that's out there!
- Benefits of Using Papaya as a Meat Tenderizer
- 2 Simple Ingredients
- How to Make Papaya Paste: A Step-by-Step Guide
- How to Use Papaya Paste for Best Results
- Storing for Future Use
- Choosing the Right Papaya: Green or Ripe?
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Types of Meat That Can Be Tenderized Using Papaya
- How to Check if the Meat Has Tenderized
- Recipe Ideas for the Use of Papaya Tenderizer
- Green Papaya Substitutes
- Other Natural Meat Tenderizers
- Top Tips
- A Word of Caution
Benefits of Using Papaya as a Meat Tenderizer
Papaya (or pawpaw) has been an important part of traditional cooking in many cultures for centuries. The flesh, peel, leaves, and seeds of this fruit contain an enzyme, called papain. This enzyme breaks down proteins and tough muscle fibers in meat, making it tender and juicy.
Here are some reasons why papaya makes such a great meat tenderizer:
- All-natural: Using papaya paste is a natural way to tenderize meat. Unlike some commercial tenderizers, green papaya paste is not seasoned or salted and has a fairly neutral taste. So the flavors and saltiness of your final dish do not get affected. Plus, it doesn't have any unwanted chemicals or preservatives. Yaay!
- Versatile: You can use it to tenderize a variety of meats, including beef, lamb, goat (mutton), pork, venison, bison, and chicken.
- Affordable: Papaya is an inexpensive fruit that is widely available in most grocery stores (especially Asian and Indian stores), making it a cost-effective alternative to expensive meat tenderizers.
- Easy to make: Making papaya paste is a simple and straightforward process that can be done at home with 2 simple ingredients. And you can store the paste in the freezer and use it for months!
2 Simple Ingredients
To make this amazing meat tenderizer, all you need are two simple ingredients: an unripe, green papaya, and some distilled white vinegar. Adding vinegar helps boost the acidity of the papaya paste, making it easier for the papain enzyme to work its magic and tenderize the meat better and faster.
If you're on the hunt for a green papaya, hitting up Asian grocery stores is your best bet. But if you can't find a green one, ripe papaya can work too. Just make sure you go for the firmest, greenest ripe papaya you can find because the papain content decreases as the fruit ripens. So to tenderize meat using ripe papaya paste, you need to double the amount compared to green papaya paste for the same effect.
How to Make Papaya Paste: A Step-by-Step Guide
To make papaya paste, follow these easy, photo-assisted instructions. Be sure to check out the recipe card below for the printable version of this recipe, which includes detailed instructions and all the important notes.
Start by washing the green papaya and cutting it in half lengthwise.
Remove the seeds using a spoon and discard them.
Peel the papaya skin with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, if desired. Note that some people prefer to leave the skin on.
Cut the papaya into small cubes.
Place the papaya cubes in a blender or food processor.
Add distilled white vinegar. Also, add a little water to help puree the papaya.
Puree the papaya until it transforms into a smooth paste, and add more water if required. Be careful not to create a runny paste, and scrape down the sides of the blender/food processor as needed.
Transfer the paste to an airtight container. Use as needed or store it for later use.
Note: Adding a little white vinegar to the papaya paste helps to lower its pH and increase its effectiveness as a meat tenderizer. This is because papain, the enzyme responsible for tenderizing meat, works best in an acidic environment with a pH of around 4 to 6. Additionally, vinegar also helps to preserve the papaya paste and prevent spoilage.
How to Use Papaya Paste for Best Results
Papaya paste can be a game-changer in the kitchen as a meat tenderizer, just as it has been for me. But here are a few things to keep in mind:
- How much to use: You need to use different amounts of papaya paste depending on how big, tough and thick the meat is. A good rule is to use one tablespoon of papaya paste for every pound of meat. Just rub the paste all over the meat.
- What meat to use it on: Papaya paste works best on tougher meats, like flank steak, skirt steak, or round steak. If you use it on thin or tender pieces of meat, the meat might get mushy. So be careful with how much paste you use and how long you let it sit on the meat.
- How long to marinate the meat: The time you need to let the meat marinate in the papaya paste depends on what kind of meat it is and how thick it is. For large chunks or tougher meats, it's best to marinate for 2 or more hours. For thinner or more delicate meats, just 30 minutes to an hour may be enough.
- Adding it to spices or marinades: You can mix papaya paste with any spices or marinades you are using for your meat because it won't change the taste much. And you don't have to wash off the paste/marinade before cooking the meat.
- Washing off: You don't need to wash off the papaya paste before cooking the meat. But if you do, just use a paper towel to dry off the meat after washing it. And don't put the spices/marinade on until after you've washed the meat.
Storing for Future Use
I love making papaya paste in bulk and storing it for later use. If you'd like to do the same, here are some storage tips you may find useful:
- Storing in the fridge: Put the papaya paste in an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator. You can store it in the fridge for up to a week.
- Storing in the freezer: To store papaya paste in the freezer, you can use either ice cube trays or freezer-safe ziplock bags. If using ice cube trays, simply spoon the paste into the tray and freeze. Once frozen, pop the cubes out and transfer them to a ziplock bag, then freeze again. If using ziploc bags, spoon the paste into the bag, flatten it out, and press out any air before sealing the bag. After sealing the bag, dent the flattened bag with a butter knife to create square partitions (about 1 inch each) that can be easily broken off when needed. You can store frozen papaya paste for up to 6 months.
- Thawing: The best method for thawing papaya paste is to place it in the fridge overnight or to thaw it at room temperature. Avoid thawing it in the microwave, as overheating can compromise its texture and tenderizing properties. Once thawed, give the papaya paste a good stir to recombine any separated liquids, and it's ready to use.
Choosing the Right Papaya: Green or Ripe?
When it comes to making papaya paste for tenderizing meat, green, unripe papaya (also known as raw papaya in some countries) is always a better option than ripe, yellow/orange papaya. This is because green papaya contains higher amounts of papain, the enzyme responsible for breaking down proteins in meat. Ripe papaya also contains papain, but in much smaller amounts.
Buying the best papaya: Look for green papayas that are firm and have no or few spots. Avoid papayas with blemishes or soft spots, as they may not be fresh.
Where to find papaya: You can find green papayas at most Asian and Indian stores. In Calgary, where I live, some Indian and Pakistani stores also sell ready-to-use papaya paste. But this is an expensive option compared to making the paste at home. And store-bought pastes often have added salt and preservatives.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
No. Canned papaya usually contains added sugars and preservatives, which may affect the tenderizing process and the flavors of the dish. It is best to use papaya paste made from fresh green papaya.
The paste made from ripe papaya can add a slightly sweet flavor to the meat. On the other hand, the paste made from green, unripe papayas usually has a neutral flavor that does not overpower the natural taste of the meat.
No, papaya paste and other meat tenderizers are only effective before cooking, not after.
Types of Meat That Can Be Tenderized Using Papaya
As a natural meat tenderizer, papaya paste can be used on a wide variety of meats. These include:
- Goat (Mutton)
Note: When using papaya paste to tenderize meat, the quantity and marinating time will vary depending on the type of meat. For example, chicken will require less marinating time compared to red meat, while game meats may require a longer marinating time due to their tougher texture.
How to Check if the Meat Has Tenderized
It can be difficult to tell if the meat has been properly tenderized because the tenderizing action happens at a microscopic level. One way to check for tenderness is to look for physical changes in the meat, such as a slightly softer texture or a slightly discolored surface.
Another way to test for tenderness is to press down on the meat with a fork or your finger to see if it feels more tender than before. But if you're not sure, it's best to err on the side of caution and not let the meat marinate in the papaya paste for too long.
Recipe Ideas for the Use of Papaya Tenderizer
Papaya paste is an underrated ingredient that can make a significant difference in dishes, especially when it comes to tenderizing tougher, cheaper cuts of meat. To showcase its versatility, here are some dishes from around the world where you can use papaya paste in the marinade:
- Steak (USA)
- Tandoori Chicken (India/Pakistan)
- Shish Kebab (Middle East)
- Satay (Indonesia)
- Bihari Kabab (India/Pakistan)
- Chicken Tikka (India/Pakistan)
- Bulgogi (Korea)
- Jerk Chicken (Caribbean)
- Adobo (Philippines)
- Carne Asada (Mexico)
- Shish Tawook (Lebanon)
- Churrasco (Brazil)
- BBQ Ribs (USA)
Green Papaya Substitutes
Ripe Papaya: When you can't find green papaya, you can use ripe papaya, instead. But choose a papaya that is less ripe. The firmer the papaya, the better it will be for tenderizing. However, you will need to use a larger amount of ripe papaya paste compared to green papaya paste to get the same tenderizing effect. For best results, use two to three times more ripe papaya paste than green papaya paste in a recipe. Keep in mind that the ripe papaya paste may add a slightly sweeter flavor to the meat, which may not be desirable in some recipes.
Other natural tenderizers or meat tenderizer powders: If you don't have access to papayas, you can use other natural tenderizers I've mentioned below, or you can buy meat tenderizer powders. But, these powders may contain salt, sugar, and other seasonings. So it's crucial to read the label and understand what you're adding to your meat. Follow the usage instructions on the package carefully. These powders can be salty, so you may need to adjust the amount of salt in your recipe. Some popular brands of meat tenderizer powders are Adolph's, McCormick, and Lawry's.
Other Natural Meat Tenderizers
- Kiwi fruit contains actinidin, a strong enzyme that breaks down proteins and can help tenderize meat. It is commonly used in Korean and Chinese cuisines. (Tenderizing potency: strong)
- Pineapple contains bromelain, a moderate enzyme that can help tenderize meat. It is commonly used in South American and Asian cuisines. (Tenderizing potency: moderate)
- Figs contain ficin, a moderate enzyme that can tenderize meat. They are commonly used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. (Tenderizing potency: moderate)
- Yogurt contains lactic acid, which is a mild tenderizer that can help to tenderize meat. It is commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. (Tenderizing potency: mild)
- Buttermilk contains lactic acid and is slightly acidic, which is a mild tenderizer that can help to tenderize meat. It is commonly used in Southern US cuisine. (Tenderizing potency: mild)
- Papaya seeds also contain papain, a strong enzyme that can help tenderize meat. They are commonly used in Caribbean and Latin American cuisines. (Tenderizing potency: strong)
- Ginger contains zingibain, which is a mild to moderate tenderizer that can help to tenderize meat. It is commonly used in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. (Tenderizing potency: mild to moderate)
- Do not use a lot: Don't be tempted to use a lot of papaya paste, as it will over-tenderize the meat. A good rule of thumb is to use no more than one tablespoon of papaya paste per pound of meat.
- Don't let it sit too long: Unless the cut of meat is big and tough, 30 minutes to a few hours of marination time is usually sufficient to tenderize the meat. Leaving papaya paste on for too long can make the meat mushy. I've made this mistake more times than I'd like to admit.
A Word of Caution
Using any food ingredient comes with some potential risks, and it's important to be aware of them to use the ingredient safely and effectively. Here are a few things to keep in mind when using papaya as a meat tenderizer:
- Allergic reactions: Some people may be allergic to papaya or have a sensitivity to it. If you experience any symptoms such as itching, swelling, or difficulty breathing after consuming papaya or using papaya paste, seek medical attention immediately.
- Digestive issues: The papain enzyme in papaya can aid in digestion. However, consuming large amounts of papaya or papaya paste can lead to digestive issues such as diarrhea or stomach cramps. It's important to use papaya paste in moderation.
- Pregnancy concerns: Papain enzyme has also been linked to early labor and miscarriage in some studies. Pregnant women should avoid consuming green papaya or papaya paste to reduce the risk of these complications.
- Medication interactions: Papaya may interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners or cholesterol-lowering drugs. Consult with your healthcare provider before consuming papaya or papaya paste if you are taking any medication.
Looking for more kitchen guides? Check these out:
- 2.5 pounds (1134 g) green papaya or pawpaw - also called green papaya or raw papaya
- ½ cup (118 ml) distilled white vinegar
- ½ cup (118 ml) water - use minimal water to blend papaya into a paste. Adjust as necessary.
Preparing Papaya Paste
- Wash the green papaya and cut it in half lengthwise. See Note A below.
- Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and discard them. If desired, peel the papaya skin with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife. Note that some people prefer to leave the skin on.
- Cut the papaya into small cubes and place them in a blender or food processor.
- Add white vinegar. Also, add water to the blender to help puree the papaya.
- Blend the papaya until it becomes a smooth paste. If needed, add a little more water as you blend, taking care not to make the paste runny. You may need to scrape down the sides of the blender/food processor a few times. Use the papaya paste as desired in recipes or store it for later use.
Storing Papaya Paste
- Refrigerate: Keep papaya paste in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
- Freeze: To freeze papaya paste, you have two options: ice cube trays or freezer-safe ziplock bags. If using ice cube trays, put the paste into the tray and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the cubes to a ziplock bag and freeze again. If using a ziploc bag, put the paste into the bag, flatten it, press out any air, and seal the bag. Then dent the flattened bag with a butter knife to create square partitions (about 1 inch each) that can be easily broken off when needed. You can store frozen papaya paste for up to 6 months.
- Thaw: For thawing papaya paste, place it in the fridge overnight. Or leave it at room temperature to thaw. Avoid thawing in the microwave, as overheating can compromise its texture and tenderizing properties. Once thawed, give the papaya paste a good stir to recombine any separated liquids, and it's ready to use.
Using Papaya Paste as a Meat Tenderizer
- Amount to use: For optimal results, adjust the amount of papaya paste based on the size and toughness of the meat. As a general rule, use one tablespoon of paste per pound (around 500 grams) of meat and ensure that the paste is evenly distributed. For thin, tender, or small cuts of meat, use less paste. You can also mix the paste with marinades before applying it to the meat.
- Marinating time: For larger and tougher cuts of meat, marinate for at least 2 hours. For thinner and more delicate meats, 30 minutes to 1 hour may be sufficient.
- Washing off: It's not necessary to wash off papaya paste from meat. But if you do, pat it dry with a paper towel. Don't add spices until after washing.
The nutritional information provided here is calculated using a third-party nutrition calculator. These values are estimates, and we cannot guarantee the correctness of the displayed numbers. Please see our disclaimer page.