Who doesn’t know of paracetamol, one of the most widely used pain and fever relief medication?
Nowadays, far from its medical use, some are adding this drug to their pots of meat, beans, vegetables or even yams.
“We often use paracetamol as a cost-effective way to quickly cook meats like cow legs for our customers to eat during events in stews.” – Beatrice, Food Caterer.
Sold for as little as 10 tablets for 50-100 FCFA, paracetamol is therefore seen by Beatrice and its users as an affordable method used for food tenderizing.
Thereby reducing the cooking duration and saving on firewood, gas, or kerosene.
Is it really without any harm to do so? What are the possible health consequences?
Dangers of tenderizing meat with paracetamol
“When temperatures are high [during cooking], paracetamol (acetaminophen) loses its painkiller properties and changes into 4-aminophenol. This is an acidic and highly dangerous product which may cause fatal liver and kidney damage within days,”Hilda Siewe, PharmD, Cameroon.
“The level of damage done is directly linked to the quantity of paracetamol used and food ingested“– she adds.
Except for some minor body disturbances, there are no symptoms within the first days.
As from the third day, you may expect the following signs and symptoms: blood clotting problems, yellow skin and confusion.
Consumption of paracetamol at the right dose and as directed has little to no side effects.
The maximum adult dose of paracetamol over 24 hours must not exceed 4g.
Above this, paracetamol becomes toxic even without applying heat.
05 simple and safer methods you may use to soften or tenderize meat
The toughness of meat comes from collagen, a connective tissue that slowly breaks down into gelatin.
This is under conditions such as the action of heat which causes it to become soft.
Below is an illustration for the science-savy
Hence, without using paracetamol, you can tenderize or soften meat through the following methods during food preparation:
1: Marinade it!
A marinade refers to a mixture that is usually made up of oil, wine, or vinegar including herbs and spices.
You can pour it over your food before it is cooked, to add flavour to it or make it tender.
These are the different types of marinades you may use to soften your meat:
- Acid-base marinades: vinegar, wine, citrus juice (lime, lemon or pineapple), and tomatoes soften muscle fibres and add flavour.
- Enzymatic marinades: Kiwi, papaya, raw pineapple, honeydew melon, and figs are examples. All contain protein enzymes (proteases) which work by breaking down the muscle fibre and connective tissue (collagen).
- Dairy-based marinades: In addition to their mildly acidic nature, buttermilk and yoghurt contain calcium which activates enzymes in meat that break down proteins.
2: Use a pressure cooker
Pressure cookers are airtight pots that generate high-pressure steam to cook food faster than traditional pots and frying.
They can tenderize the most stubborn cut of meat and turn tough chewy fibres into gelatin.
3: Pound it!
Meat can be pounded before cooking using a mallet as a mechanical or physical means of tenderizing by damaging the connective tissues. It equally makes the meat thinner and flatter.
4: Use a knife
To absorb the enzymes/marinade more deeply, you can use a knife to either macerate the raw surface of your meat or slice the cooked meat thinly and against the grain.
The idea here is to break up the long, tough meat fibres so they are shorter and thus easier to chew.
5: Use commercial meat tenderizers in moderation
A commercial meat tenderizer refers to a naturally derived enzyme powder used in the softening of meat.
The most commonly used active ingredient is the enzyme papain, which is found in the papaya plant…
In conclusion, be careful about what you eat outside or from who you eat.