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Should You Add Fruit to a Marinade?

By Cook's Illustrated Published January 2019

Many fruits contain enzymes that supposedly tenderize meat. We tested their tenderizing effects for ourselves.

Many fruits contain enzymes that supposedly tenderize the meat. To test their tenderizing effects for ourselves, we added ½ cup each of crushed pear and crushed kiwi to separate batches of our Korean Marinated Beef marinade and soaked slices of rib-eye steak in each for 30 minutes. We also tossed more sliced steak in our go-to tenderizer—a solution of baking soda and water—for 5 minutes (since baking soda works on contact, longer isn't necessary) and then stir-fried all three samples per our recipe. While the baking soda–treated batch cooked up perfectly moist and tender, the pear- and kiwi-marinated meat cooked up mushy on the surface. That's because the tenderizers work differently: Whereas baking soda tenderizes by unraveling and separating the meat's protein strands, the powerful fruit enzymes (calpain in pear; actinidain in kiwi) snip the protein strands into smaller pieces that yield a mushy effect. We'll stick with baking soda when we need to tenderize meat.

Use Baking Soda, Not A Fruity Marinade

Baking soda leaves meat nicely tender, not mushy.