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Baking Soda as Meat Tenderizer

  • d

Lately I've been using a Chinese technique: rubbing
meat with baking soda as a tenderizer before cooking. It works very well. Does this technique exist in the West? Is there any argument against it?

David A.

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  1. What exactly is the technique? Do you rinse the baking soda off before cooking? Doesn't it leave a strong taste? How much time before cooking do you rub it in? Inquiring minds....

    9 Replies
    1. re: soodysoo

      We rub a bit of soda in the cut meat before stir-frying. I suppose you could rinse the meat off, but we don't. There is no detectable taste. It works equally well with chicken, pork, and beef. It might be argued that the texture of the meat is subtly changed; it becomes so tender as to lose a bit of its texture. This is the issue I was angling toward with my initial post.

      David A.

      1. re: David A.

        One other thing: the meat must be given some time to marinate. I've seen recommended marination times that range from ten minutes to eight hours. We haven't done enough experimentation to settle on the optimum marination.

        David A.

        1. re: David A.

          Would you use about the same amount of baking soda as you would salt? In other words, do you sprinkle the soda like salt and then rub it in? I guess I'm just trying to imagine the quantity of baking soda needed, say for the meat for an average stir-fry (4 people).

          1. re: soodysoo
            Melanie Wong

            Oh, forgot to mention that I've heard that this method robs some of the nutrient value. Haven't had that verified by a nutritionist.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              You would be better off getting it confirmed by a Registered Dietician. Anybody with a theroy can call themselves a nutritionist. An RD has a degree in nutriton and foods and is a more reliable source.

              1. re: Candy
                Melanie Wong

                Would be great if you would follow-up on that and report back to us on the answer.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I'm neither a RD or a nutritionist. I was a Home Ec.Ed. major in college and went to school with the dieticians. Now I'm a Realtor. Wrong field to be of help. Sorry.

            2. re: soodysoo

              Yes, sprinkle and rub. I would say the right amount is somewhere between a teaspoon and a tablespoon. There may be a little experimentation required.

              David A.

              1. re: David A.

                Hmm... definitely not a tablespoon for me unless you have like ten pounds of beef.

      2. I don't know of any self-respecting Chinese cook who would do that.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Gary Soup

          On the contrary, I have reason to believe this technique is very pervasive in both restaurant and homecooking. The technique is recommended in numerous cookbooks in my possession, some in English, some in Chinese, the most readily available of which is probably Eileen Yi-fei Lo's latest. The more I learn about authentic Chinese cooking -- i.e. the kind of cooking that goes on in restaurants in Taiwan and China -- the more I realize how dependent it is on chemical additives: Baking soda, ammonia, and many others that I have not figured out how to translate. For years I have been failing in my efforts produce authentic "bao." I believe the reason is that authentic bao contains numerous complicated chemical leveners generally unavailable to the home cook. When I was last in Taiwan, I purchased some of these at a professional baking supply store, but I have yet to experiment with them. I was amazed that Homeland Security let me carry these unidentified and unidentifiable white powders through airport security.

          David A.

          1. re: David A.
            Melanie Wong

            Yes, this tenderizing method is extremely common in SF's Chinese restaurants for beef stir-fries. It does get overdone sometimes leaving the beef mushy. Also, I will often pick up a slight metallic taste.

          2. re: Gary Soup


            Actually, this technqiue is used very often in Chinese restaurants. Now, i see where you are coming from, and I do agree to some extends, but I won't go as far as saying that no self-respecting Chinese cook would use baking soda as tenderizaer

          3. Sounds like it would taste terrible. Why not just use a tender cut of meat?

            3 Replies
            1. re: 2chez mike

              2chrez, ...On the contrary, Bakiing soda will remove objectionable odors from the meat, and yes this technique is ongoing as a favourite Chinese cooking secret.

              Shhh....Don't let anyone know I told you this....lol,,,

              BTW...Gary soup...Ammonia?

              If you are looking for a short-acting toxin activator ammonia is almost unparalled in it's ability to detroy the double helix discovered by Watson and Crick.

              Hippocrates had two great rules; "First do no further harrn" , and 'let food be thy medicine'.

              1. re: Grist for the mill

                No sense freaking out, Grist. There is a substance called "baking ammonia" or "hartshorn" that is used in small cookies, crackers and especially cream puffs. It totally bakes out of the product an is harmless...

              2. re: 2chez mike

                For two reasons.

                Less tender cuts of meat have more flavour. Second, And more important, less tender cuts yield more gelatin than fancy cuts, adding to the mouth-feel quality.

              3. If anyone has ever had the broccoli beef stir fry dish done with baking soda and one done without, you will fully understand the great advantage of this terderization method!

                1. Hi David,

                  Yes, I used this technique when I were a college student, but not anymore. This technique is particular popular to beef because beef has a tougher texture than chicken and pork. There are two sub-approaches as you mentioned. One approach is to use very small amount of baking soda and mix with the meat (maybe like 1/4 to 1/8th teaspoon in 1 pound of beef) and marinate for 5-10 minutes. You can over tenderize it, so I never let it goes too long. The other approach is to marinate and then rinse it off. The idea is that you can use more baking soda and to rinse off the extra taste, but this approach tends to soak up the meat with water and makes the stir fry tougher.

                  The disadvantage of this technique is that baking soda removes certain beefy taste from the meat. You will notice the baking soda marinate beef much smoother and softer, but lack the richer taste of the beef. I don’t think this technique exist in the West due to the disadvantage I mentioned.

                  There are other techniques to soften the beef, such as marinating in corn starch and stir fry in more oil. Granted that none of the other technique can soften the beef like baking soda, other techniques do not remove the rich beef favor. Thanks.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics


                    Are you saying that the chemical nature of cornstarch can actually tenderize, as in break down protein fibers in meat, as baking soda would? Or is it because the velveting technique (cornstarch, egg white, wine and salt) also generally includes an acid (rice wine)?

                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                      Hi Bushwickgirl,

                      My previous statement is not accurate. I personally do not think cornstarch can break up the protein fibers like baking soda. Cornstarch help to minimize water leaking out of the meat. It acts as a thickening agent. Meat becomes much tougher when the water/juice of the meat leaks out and the meat starts to simmer in the liquid at a low temperature as oppose to being fried in the oil. Cornstarch prevents this scenario. So you are correct. I don't think cornstarch actually soften the beef. It is more of a measure to prevent the cook from accidentially toughening the beef.

                      I have read claims that cornstarch literally tenderize the meat, but I have not read the exact reasons behind such claim, so I am not buying it yet.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics


                        Yes, I saw your response at the other dreged up older thread on this same subject. I did some reseach into the chemical nature of cornstarch; it's a non-soluable polymer with no exact chemical equation and as a carb, it's ph neutral. Sounds like not much of anything really, but it is used in a wide variety of applications for food processing and other goods. It doesn't have the ability to break down protein fibers, as I understand it.

                        My point at the other thread was that it seemed like poster Grist for the mill in his post at the other thread was saying that using baking soda was a form of velveting, which I understood not to be the case. Maybe I misunderstood the poster's wording. Anyway, thanks for your response, as always. I have always thought that the use of cornstarch in velveting process was to seal in the moisture of the meat when cooked in oil, (for example) at a high heat with the added benefit of leaving a crispy, "velvety" coating on the surface of the meat.

                        Ok, that clears that up pretty much. Happy holiday!

                        1. re: bushwickgirl

                          Thanks for the clarification. I think you are correct.

                          1. re: bushwickgirl

                            It was very interesting all what I've read about the baking soda, it really works well with me, also another way I use is marinating the meat or chicken in yoghurt,,,I come from the Middle East and the yoghurt recepie has been passed through many generations, Indian food involves this recepie as well.

                            1. re: bushwickgirl

                              Uh, Cornstarch has no exact chemical equation? Just searching "chemical equation of cornstarch" yields C27H48O20 so I have no clue what you're talking about.


                      2. This is common practice for anyone cooking seal meat where I come from. Helps remove the fat and any strong odor apparently.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: im_nomad

                          I realized you live in Canada from your profile page, but I had no idea you live THAT far north! Do folks up there still give Granny a sack lunch and set her adrift on an ice floe when her teeth are too worn down to soften seal pelts any more? '-)

                        2. I always wondered how to achieve the textures of asian style dishes, and came across baking soda. This is the magic ingredient in meat tenderization that gives meats their kinda rubbery texture. Be careful, and don't use too much- sometimes I rinse it off, sometimes leave it on. You can break down the proteins in meats and veggies too much and render your potential feast inedible by using too much or for too long as a marinade. Sometimes, I use just the baking soda, and add my flavored marinade afterwards. If your marinade is acidic, it'll fizz a little, but doesn't seem detrimental to the prep of the meal.

                          1. Arguments against?....yeah it has no flavor. Chicken, beef, pork...they all taste the same(like nothing) with the same "already-been-chewed texture" Sorry so harsh but just had some Chinese from one of the more popular restaurants around here and was disappointed about the same texture the meat had I've encountered at buffets. I'm asian too and I have been perplexed for years by the kind of meat(if it can called that) I find in these places and I'm finally fed up so I Googled it and came across this board.

                            1. i'm certain that they do this to the beef chow foon beef pieces at hong kong pearl seafood restaurant in falls church, va, and to the sizzling beef with pepper sauce at x.o. taste restaurant also in falls church. both are excellent dishes to my taste. the beef is softer, but still has a good flavor to me. perhaps it is also more receptive to the other flavorings in the dish, too. i've not used the technique, but have seen it in various chinese cookbooks.

                              1. I just saw a America's Test Kitchen episode where they used baking soda slurry to tenderize low fat ground beef, vis a vis Sheperd's Pie recipe.

                                1. There are several other threads on using baking soda as a tenderizer and the technique.

                                  Here are links to a few of them:

                                  One poster said it's better to select a tender cut of meat than to use baking soda as a tenderizer for tough cuts. I tend to agree.

                                  1. When ATK did it with diced chicken and pork, for two different stir-fried applications, it was a tsp of baking soda dissolved in 4oz cold water and mixed with the meat.
                                    After 15 minutes (maybe 20?) it was thoroughly rinses off and the meat patted dry with paper towels.

                                    I tried this with both boneless pork cutlets and beef flap meat. It worked very well and did not affect the flavor in any way.