Does Honey Tenderize Meat?

Honey can be used as a meat tenderizer. The enzymes in honey make it ideal for this purpose.

Specifically, the enzymes in honey will break down the meat proteins on the surface. Honey also helps prevent meat from getting dry.

Correspondingly, honey effectively improves the juiciness and flavor of your steak, pork chops, and chicken while giving the meat a lovely brown exterior and caramelized top.

Jars of raw honey that can be used to tenderize meat
If you want to use honey to tenderize your meat, make sure it’s raw honey and not the pasteurized version. (© FOODLANDER | Creative Commons)

Raw vs. Pasteurized Honey

There are two types of honey: raw and pasteurized.

Raw honey is the best choice when it comes to marinades. The main reason for this is its unique, sweet flavor. This is also true for unfiltered honey, which is not necessarily raw if not labeled but will more closely resemble honey directly from the hive than honey that has been filtered.

On the other hand, pasteurized honey is more commonly available but is often diluted and contains added syrups. Moreover, it does not have the same amount of enzymes as raw honey.

While real honey is great for tenderizing meat, keep in mind that it is not used the same way for every type of meat. For example, if you are cooking beef, you may need to braise it to tenderize it properly.

How the Tenderizing Process Works

Using honey to tenderize meat is a popular way to prepare protein. Very few people, however, know precisely how the process works.

Meat is made up of muscle fibers and connective tissue. Collagen is the most common type of connective tissue. When collagens are exposed to heat or acid, they break down.

Gammon that was tenderized with honey
Honey-glazed gammon

The protein enzymes in honey work to break down larger proteins on the surface of the meat, resulting in a more tender cut. This makes the meat more flavorful and easier to digest, and it’s helpful for cuts of steak that are hard to chew. Honey also includes a chemical called amylase, which breaks down carbohydrates into sugars.

Honey is best used with other tenderizing ingredients and techniques. Depending on the type of meat you are preparing, there are several complementary techniques you can use to tenderize it. One standard method involves pounding.

Other standard methods include a heat tenderizer and a fruit or vegetable tenderizing technique. These methods involve soaking the meat in an acidic juice or fruit.

Regardless of your chosen method, the meat should be tenderized before cooking. Also, tenderizing it before cooking will help it absorb the marinade and other ingredients.

What Meats Work Best With a Honey Marinade?

You can use a honey marinade on just about any type of meat. The sweetness of the honey helps balance the intensity of the other ingredients. And it makes the meat more tender and succulent.

Chicken being tenderized in a honey marinade
Chicken marinade

You also can cook chicken in a marinade to get an excellent, crispy coating. Chicken can absorb the marinade ingredients easily. You can also mix honey with other ingredients to create a sweet and savory sauce for your chicken, then you can grill it to get a gorgeous mahogany finish.

To make a good chicken marinade, you will need oil, soy sauce, honey, garlic, and water. You can also include salt and sugar if you like. The meat should be coated with the marinade before it’s cooked. For optimal flavoring, marinate your chicken in the fridge overnight.

For pork or beef marinade, you can substitute soy sauce for salt if you prefer. Soy sauce contains glutamic acid, which boosts the meat’s flavor. You can add other spices, too, such as paprika, cumin, and black pepper.

For a savory flavor, you can add crushed garlic and shallots. If you want a sweet taste, try adding honey or syrup, like sorghum.

Lastly, you can also cook seafood or tofu in a honey marinade. But remember, you need to leave the marinade on the meat for at least a few hours to ensure the meat obtains all of the flavors.