11 Juices That Tenderize Meat When Marinating


If you’re looking for a way to make your favorite meats tender, consider marinating them in one of these fruit juices.

Not only will they add lots of different flavors but they all help break down the tough meat fibers in different ways making your steaks, chops, and other cuts even more amazing!

Why? Because the juices contain acids and enzymes which affect the molecular structure of the protein to soften it in a similar way that cooking does.

These juices are versatile too as you can use them on their own or as part of a marinade recipe with oils and spices for great results. Let’s get started!

Lime Juice

Limes are one of the most acidic fruits available and have been used for centuries for marinating meat and it’s easy to see why.

Thanks to their high acidity the juice of limes breaks down tough meat fibers quicker than many other fruit juices making them a popular choice, especially when time is short.

You need a lot of limes to produce a decent amount of juice but because it’s so strong, you don’t need a lot. Typically you will just mix it with other ingredients to give the meat a really great tangy, fresh flavor.

Read more in my other article about how citrus juice tenderizes the meat and how to marinate it properly.

Pineapple Juice

Although pineapple juice is acidic, this juice also contains a protease enzyme called bromelain that really helps break down meat proteins even more, making the meat very tender in a shorter amount of time.

Adding some pineapple juice to your steak marinade is a great way to add a tropical twist while tenderizing tougher cuts of meat that are often cheaper. 

Don’t leave them too long though as this juice can turn meat mushy in just a few hours. Leaving steak overnight in fresh pineapple can lead to an almost powdery texture after grilling. Very unpleasant! 

Note that it’s important to use fresh pineapple juice or pulp as anything that has been heat treated (such as canned pineapple) will kill off the enzymes.

Papaya Juice Or Pulp

Papayas are not that acidic but they do contain an amazing meat tenderizing enzyme called papain and have been used in Mexican marinades for hundreds of years.

Papain is what’s known as a proteolytic enzyme that helps digest the proteins in meat giving it a softer texture. This is the same naturally occurring enzyme that is used in many commercial products used to make tough meat more palatable.

However, using fresh papaya juice or pulp as a marinade is a much better way to take advantage of papain. This adds a sweet tropical flavor the commercial meat tenderizers could never match!

Try this marinated flank steak recipe.

Orange Juice

The acidity in orange juice helps break down the muscle fibers in meat, so it will be more tender when cooked. Being a very common juice it’s likely the most accessible in your house.

It also adds a lovely citrus flavor that pairs well with many types of meat including pork, chicken, beef, and fish. 

Soaking the meat in orange juice marinade for two to four hours will make it tender and flavorful. However, leaving your meat in the marinade for too long can make the texture unpleasant if it’s soft meat.

Cranberry Juice 

Cranberry juice is a popular ingredient in many recipes, but it also has an unexpected use. It can tenderize meat! 

The high acidity in cranberry juice breaks down tough muscle fibers and makes meats more tender. It also has a tangy flavor that’s great for pairing with chicken or pork.

To tenderize meat, soak the meat in a mixture of cranberry juice and water for up to two hours before cooking. You can also add some seasoning to the mixture if you want. Pat dry the meat after soaking it so that it doesn’t end up too wet.

Fig Juice Or Pulp

Next on our list is a fruit you may not think of for tenderizing purposes as it’s not particularly acidic. However, figs contain ficin, a member of the protease enzyme family.

Similar to the enzymes found in papayas, kiwifruits, and pineapples, ficin is very effective at digesting the tough connective tissue in meat.  This makes it very tender and delightful to eat and is so effective it’s often used in commercial tenderizers.

Fig juice is quite hard to extract so I recommend making pulp from the flesh and spreading that over your meat for an hour or so for some great tasting and tender dishes.

Lemon Juice

Lemons are a classic way to add some acidity to your meat, and when added towards the end of the cooking time can literally make the dish mouth-watering. 

That’s because the acidity of the lemon increases salivation when you taste the meat.

It’s this very high acid content that also makes lemon juice a great way to tenderize your meat before getting to the cooking stage.  

If you’re grilling steaks, try applying a thick coating of lemon juice an hour before putting them on the grill to help break down some of the tough fibers.

Grapefruit Juice

Grapefruit juice is another very acidic fruit, which as we know helps break down tough fibers and tenderizes meat before cooking time. This is especially helpful when you’re grilling or broiling the meat rather than cooking it low and slow over indirect heat sources like an oven or smoker.

Adding grapefruit juice to your marinade will give the meat a wonderful zingy taste and is great for adding a lovely fresh flavor.

Kiwifruit Juice Or Pulp

Another well-known fruit that has long been used for tenderizing meat is kiwifruit. Like apples and cranberries, kiwifruits are highly acidic but also contain a protein-munching enzyme to speed up the process.

The enzyme in kiwis is called actinidin and is similar to the proteases found in figs, papayas, and pineapples. Usually, a marinade recipe will call for adding the fleshy part of the kiwi as they’re not so easy to juice.

You can also take the skin of a scooped-out kiwifruit and rub the underside along both sides of the meat before cooking for an easy method to start softening it up.

Apple Juice

Apple juice is a moderately acidic fruit juice and the acid helps break down meat proteins to make your chops and steaks etc. much easier to chew.

Unlike some fruit juices with very high acidity like lemon and lime, apple juice adds a sweetness and depth of flavor that makes it great for a variety of marinade recipes. 

Apples are a classic accompaniment to pork so try marinading pork chops in apple juice for an hour before cooking for a great taste.

Tomato Juice

Last but by no means least on our list, it’s no surprise that tomato juice helps break down meat fibers as it’s used in many meaty recipes both as a marinade and a cooking sauce. 

Tomatoes are acidic and this helps tenderize meat, making it easier for your body to digest. Often mixed with other ingredients when making up your marinade or sauce, it adds a rich flavor that goes great with chicken and pork.

How Much Juice Is Needed To Tenderize Meat?

Ideally, you want to use enough liquid to cover the meat while it’s marinating and with fruit juices like apple and orange it’s easy to buy a carton of fresh juice so you have enough. 

For other more acidic juices like lemon and lime, you will only need small quantities. Either use them as part of a marinade recipe with other liquids or brush the fresh juice on as they only need to sit on the surface.

Where you’re using fruit that contains enzymes to break down the meat, you can mash or pulp the flesh and use that to coat the meat for the best results.

Conclusion

I’m sure you will agree that’s quite a list! Hopefully, you’ve found some new fruit juices to add to your marinades that will tenderize your tough meat.

Some of my favorites are thin pork cutlets with lemon, garlic, and olive oil, a tough cut of steak with lime juice and chili powder, or a pork shoulder with pineapple juice. Often the marinade makes a lovely sauce for the meat when cooked.

Tom

Hey, I'm Tom. I set up Boss The Kitchen to start answering the thousands of questions people have while cooking. For me, the kitchen is my happy place and I hope to help other people with the knowledge I've gained along the way.

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