Meat Science! (page 2)

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Author: Tricia Edgar
See in slideshow:
10 Food Experiments for Kids


While cooking meat on a barbeque might seem pretty easy, there’s a lot of science behind tenderizing meat to make it softer.

The steak you’re experimenting with is made out of cow muscle, and muscle is made up of fibers. And just like the fibers in wood, muscle fibers run in a particular direction, called the grain. When you pull in the same direction of the fiber’s grain, the muscle gets longer but doesn’t break. This means that when you slice the meat with the grain, you’ll get a piece of meat made up of long pieces of fiber like long lines of spaghetti, and it’ll be harder to chew. If you slice against the grain, you’ll have many small pieces of fiber, and the meat will be easier to chew. 

People have many ways of making meat softer. Some are chemical reactions, while others involve physical pounding. Tenderizing meat by pounding on it is a way of making meat softer without using any chemical reactions. Instead, you’re using your own energy to break down the steak’s cell walls.

When you use soy sauce or baking soda, you’re using chemistry to make the meat softer. Have you made a baking soda and vinegar explosion? If so, you’ll know that baking soda reacts to acids in a big way. Baking soda is basic, and meat is slightly acidic.  The chemical reaction that happens breaks down the proteins in the meat and makes it softer.

The soy sauce makes the meat softer in two steps.  First, the acidic soy sauce softens the muscle fibers in the meat. Soy sauce is also very salty. The liquid in the meat’s cells is less saline, or salty, than the soy sauce. Therefore, some liquid flows out of the meat and the soy sauce flows in to replace it. The newly-arrived, acidic soy sauce dissolves some of the proteins in the cells, and the meat gets softer. This movement of liquid from an area with a lot of salt to an area with less salt is an example of osmosis.

Can you think of other ways to soften meat? Try them out next time you’re cooking dinner, and think about how science might help explain what happened!

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