What is Tenderizer?

Tenderizer- Definition

A substance, containing various enzymes applied to food items specially meat to make it tender. For example- Papaya, kiwi, fig etc. papaya has papin, kiwi, has actinidin  and fig has ficin.

The tenderizers are proteolytic enzymes or proteases, enzymes specialized in breaking the peptide bonds between amino acids found in complex proteins. Meat is held together by a complex protein called collagen, and aside from mechanical tenderization and cooking, enzymes are the only other available meat tenderizers. Meat is often tenderized before cooking, to make it less tough and more suitable for consumption.

Here is a list of tenderisers commonly used in India:

Natural Tenderizers


Raw Papaya

The humble papaya is a very able tenderizer. The protein digesting enzyme called papain present in the fruit helps in tenderizing the dishes in which it is used.


Curd is to India what cheese is to Europeans.Ancient Indians had long long ago identified the benefits of curd. We can not deny its nutritional value, and nor the fact that it helps in digestion tremendously.However it is the most important tenderizer used in tandoori-cooking.
The lactic acid that is present in curd helps to break down meat fibres and tenders the product while cooking.It is added at various stages of marination.


There are three to four varieties of lemon grown in India.The citric acid present in the fruit helps in tenderizing the tough meat.


Kachri is not well known to the common man but it is an excellent tenderizer.It is a wild variety of cucumis and is found in Bengal, Punjab, parts of Maharashtra.Generally it is dried and powdered before use.


You thought vinegar is used mostly in Chinese preparation and that too only to add flavour.But it can also be used as tenderizer in most cases.The presence of acetic acid in vinegar gives it its tenderizing quality.

Vinegar made from grapes and cider remain the most consistently used as tenderizer.One can also go for synthetic vinegar if one wishes.

Raw Pineapple
Bromalein, an enzyme present in the fruit pineapple helps in breaking down the active meat fibres.

Raw Figs

The ficin enzyme present in figs or anjeer acts as a tenderizer for tandoori dishes.


While most other fruits have only one acid content, tamarind has two very effective acids that help in breaking down the meat fibres, namely -citric and tartaric acid.
Brown Mustard

This might come as a surprise, but even brown mustard or rai is used as a tenderizer in tandoori delicacies.

Commercially prepared Tenderizers

Prepared meat tenderizers are now available easily in the markets worldwide, This has come up as a result of industrialization and huge demand of tandoori products world wide.But my advice would be to go for the natural ones on any given day, except when the natural tenderizers are out of stock.

Mechanical Tenderizing
There is one other aspect of tenderizing that needs mention. This is mechanical tenderizing. Often lamb is beaten with a wooden or rubber mallet or scored to facilitate the tenderizing process. This method is used for the preparation of chops, spare ribs, lamb rolls, etc.

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