Papain and meat tenderizing by Gracie Bradford

What is papain?
Papain is an enzyme that is found in papaya milk, and catalyzes the breakdown of proteins through hydrolysis, which is adding a water molecule into the protein. This enzyme is mostly used in meat tenderizing agents, and is what is commonly found in the white powder that we can by to tenderize steaks and poultry.

What is an enzyme?
An enzyme is a protein that functions as a catalyst by increasing the reaction rate between molecules. There are hundreds of different kinds of enzymes, and each one reacts only to one specific substrate. This is because the enzyme is shaped to fit the substrate that it reacts to, as shown below. Our body uses enzymes to perform digestion, and to break down our food in our stomachs, so naturally, many different types of enzymes are harbored within our stomach.

How does Papain work?enzyme.jpg

Like said before, papain breaks down proteins by adding a water molecule to the proteins that make up the tough fibers in meat, and the connective tissue. When beef is tough, it is simply because the cow had strong muscles and was healthy, so it caused its meat to have strong fibers and tough connective tissue. Papain is usually in meat tenderizers, along with other preserving factors such as salt, to break down these tough connecting fibers. The papain reacts with the connective fibers, and connects with the proteins that make up these fibers, and the enzyme breaks apart the proteins through hydrolysis (adding a water molecule.) The great thing about papain is that it is active in hot temperatures, which enables it to still tenderize your meat while it is cooking, unlike other tenderizers.

Tips for Using Papain in meat tenderizer
In South America, for centuries they have been soaking their meat in papaya juice to tenderize it because of the papain that is in it. It is suggested to put your tenderizer in your marinade, and to put it on your meat right before you cook it. This way, the tenderizer will soak through the meat and begin to break down the touch connective tissue, and by the time the meat is cooked, the enzyme will have deactivated due to the heat, and your meat will have the perfect amount of tenderness. Many people mistake marinating the meat a long while before cooking it, which would cause the Papain to over tenderize your meat, and break down almost all of the connective tissue in the meat, and the meat will be soggy, and almost slim like.

Other uses of papainpapaya-lg.jpg
Many believe papain can be used as a anti-inflammatory supplement, because it is active at temperatures slightly higher than normal body temperature, meaning it would be drawn to your swollen aches and pains, but there is not full proof that this is completely true.

For further reading:

http://www.alliedkenco.com/catalog/popup_text.php?fld=howto&tbl=howtos&key=25 – has other great techniques for tenderizing meat.
http://www.enzymedica.com/what_are_enzymes.php - has many lists of uses of papain and other enzymes.
http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9058315/papain - goes into great depth on how papain works and its functions.

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