Green Papaya as a Meat Tenderizer?

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Picture of Unripe Green Papaya

Unripe Green Papaya

Unripe papaya, also known as green papaya, is a common fruit in southeast Asia. Both the ripe and unripe form of papaya has a variety of culinary uses. Unripe papaya is probably most well known in Filipino cuisine for being the key ingredient in the condiment called atchara, which uses pickled green papaya as the primary ingredient. But a lesser known use for green papaya is as an alternative meat tenderizer.

Unripe papaya contains an enzyme called papain. Even the leaves of the papaya tree contains this enzyme. Papain works as a meat tenderizer by breaking down the connective tissues of the meat that it comes into contact with. This works on all types of meat such as chicken, beef, lamb, and pork. So how does it work? It’s actually quite simple to do if you have a couple common kitchen utensils.

To prepare a meat tenderizer using green papaya, you first take a whole green papaya and peel the skin of the papaya up to about 14 inch deep. You will know you have peeled deep enough when the white flesh of the papaya is exposed. Cut the papaya in half then take a spoon and scoop out the premature seeds, if any are present. Now chop the papaya into small cubes and mash it into a paste using a sturdy fork or spoon. A food processor would also work well. Now add 14 teaspoon of salt for every 2 tablespoons of the papaya paste. Now your green papaya meat tenderizer is prepared.

Use 2 tablespoons of the green papaya meat tenderizer paste for every pound of meat. Apply the paste to the surface of the meat. Briefly massage the paste into the meat. You will need to activate the papain enzymes first before the meat tenderizer will be effective. To activate the enzymes, heat the meat to at least 140 °F, but no higher than 160 °F. Once the enzyme has been activated, proceed with your food preparation as planned.

This trick can come in handy in a pinch if you have an green papaya available and a tough cut of meat to cook. Just remember that the enzyme in the papaya that works as the meat tenderizer needs to be activated before it will work. If done correctly, this is an effective method for tenderizing meats. Enjoy.


3 Responses

  1. Kai Meyer says:

    Can you heat the tenderizer first to activate, cool and then marinate the meat in fridge?

    • Heatherbell Fong says:

      No, the enzyme papain needs a constant temperature throughout the marinating. The meat should be in the same temperature range also, least 140 °F, but no higher than 160 °F.

  2. Bluebeep says:

    Just to follow up with the previous posters question… So if I plan to marinate the meat for about an hour and I’m also planning on tenderizing the meat using this papain enzyme and if I follow the method and stick the meat in the oven at 140 for an hour it won’t just be marinated… It will be cooked!

    Does this mean you can either tenderize and cook your meat, or marinate it. Not both? Coz I’ve never really marinated meat at 140 for an hour

    Also, how long does tenderizing take? A couple of hours? If so we leave the meat at 140 with the papaya for a couple of hours?

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