Skip to Content

Do Onions Tenderize Meat? [Solved]

Can onions be used to tenderize meat?

How many times have you walked into a grocer, or through the vegetable section of the supermarket, and not seen onions?

I guess your answer is hardly ever.

Onions are basically everywhere and are very adaptable in the kitchen. Have you thought of using them to tenderize meat, though?

Can onions be used to tenderize meat?

Onions can be used to tenderize meat because they contain enzymes that break down the proteins in the structural components of meat. They do this essentially by adding more water to the cells in these components, which breaks down the molecules. The result is that the meat becomes softer internally and thus more tender.

Do Onions Tenderize Meat?
Do Onions Tenderize Meat?

Onions as a tenderizer

The reason that onions can be used to tenderize meat is that they contain enzymes that are called proteolytic because they act on proteins.

They are an important part of the digestive system and have an effect on the elasticity and tautness of the meat.

The proteolytic enzymes act on proteins in the meat to hydrolise them, which means adding water to the molecules and breaking the bonds.

The meat becomes softer and more tender when it is cooked.

Internally, meat is made up of different components.

The ones that determine whether the meat is tough or tender are the connective tissues.

It is the protein in these that the proteolyzing enzymes break down most efficiently.

As this happens, the meat becomes more tender.

Meat becomes soft internally through the use of onions when cooking
Meat becomes soft internally through the use of onions when cooking

Proteolytic enzymes

Proteolytic enzymes occur naturally in all living organisms and perform many functions.

One of these is to break down proteins, which is advantageous to the digestive system.

This is also indirectly affected by the effect of breaking down the proteins in meat.

The more tender the meat is, the easier it will be to eat and then digest.

The way that proteolytic enzymes work to tenderize meat is that they work on collagen and elastin, which help the meat to keep flexible and strong.

By hydrolyzing, or breaking down, these particular proteins, the enzymes tenderize the meat.

Proteolytic enzymes in onions are breaking down the proteins in meat
Proteolytic enzymes in onions are breaking down the proteins in meat

Can onions be used to tenderize any meat?

The proteolytic enzymes in onion that break down the proteins and make the meat softer don’t discriminate.

This means that, theoretically, any type of meat can be tenderized by onions.

The type of meat that is usually made tender is beef steak, so this is the most common form of meat that onions are added to and can act as a tenderizer.

It is absolutely possible to use onions to tenderize chicken, particularly chicken breasts which tend to become quite dry and tough if cooked on their own.

You might also use onions to tenderize pork chops.

If you look at the ingredients in hamburgers and sausage, you will often find chopped onion, which is one of the key reasons that these are usually tender and juicy when cooked.

Onions are a great meat tenderizer
Onions are a great meat tenderizer

How to use onions to tenderize meat

The simplest way to use onions to tenderize meat is to cut the onions fairly thin. Put a layer of onions in a dish.

Place the meat over them and then cover the meat with more onions.

Cover the dish and leave it for about an hour, to allow the essence of the onion to soak into the meat.

Another option is to use the onions as part of a marinade for the meat.

Use finely chopped onions and mix them with the spices of your choosing and some olive oil and vinegar.

Cover the meat with the marinade and leave it in the fridge overnight.

There is a Japanese dish called Chaliapin Steak, where the onion is put right into the steak.

You would make shallow cuts into the steak and chop an onion is chopped.

Put the chopped onion right not the cuts, which means the enzymes in the onions can really get into the center of the meat and tenderize it from the inside, so to speak.

Onions do tenderize meat through enzymes that break down meat
Onions do tenderize meat through enzymes that break down meat

Advantages of using onions

One of the vegetables you are guaranteed to find just about anywhere in a grocery store or a supermarket is onions

They are relatively easy to grow and can be cultivated in the right conditions in most areas.

They also have a relatively long shelf life.

Onions are also mostly affordable.

They have quite a strong flavor, but can also complement most other foods.

Onions and steak is a particularly popular combination, which is one of the reasons that using onions as a tenderizer with meat is successful.

Onions add flavor

There is more to using onions in your cookery than as a meat tenderizer.

One of the added advantages of adding onions to your meat to make it softer is that onions add extra flavor.

They also bring out the flavor of the meat.

If you use raw onions, perhaps with a little salt, they will cook with the meat and its juice and add their flavor to the dish.

Onions are also a tasty addition to a marinade for meat.

They can be used raw, in which case they should be chopped up very finely, or they can be cooked.

If onions are fried until they are very soft, they will hold together quite well in a marinade.

Frequently Asked Questions About Do Onions Tenderize Meat

Why are onions a good meat tenderizer?

Onions contain proteolytic enzymes, which function to add water to the cells in the meat. This makes them more relaxed, which ends up making the meat softer. When the meat is cooked, it is tender.

Do I have to use onions on their own to tenderize meat?

It is possible to use onions by themselves to tenderise meat, but they also work well if you add some spices. In fact, adding salt can draw the juice out of the onions, which helps the necessary enzymes get into the meat. This means the meat will be tender when it is cooked.

Can onions be used to tenderize any meat?

This means it is possible to use onions to tenderize any type of meat. However, steak is the most popular meat to be tenderized, so you will usually use onions with beef steak.

Conclusion About Do Onions Tenderize Meat

We all use onions in the kitchen because they are quite easy to cook, have a great flavor on their own, and can also be used with just about any type of meat.

They don’t only make meat tastier, though, but can also be used to make it more tender.

So, opt for onions next time you want to cook a really tender beef steak.