September 3, 2010
Since we don’t have cable - or antenna reception - I’ve been going through the TV offerings on Netflix.
Netflix has a lot of old MythBusters episodes, and on one, they test a myth that steak can be tenderized by (a) shooting it out of a cannon, or (b) by subjecting it to shockwaves from high explosives. I admit that I wasn’t originally sure who would come up with a story like this, or under what circumstances this would have happened in real life. (There is also a third myth that a steak can be tenderized by putting it in a dryer with a bunch of ball bearings; this one isn’t as interesting to me).
The result is that you can indeed tenderize a steak by blowing it up or shooting it out of a cannon. I guess this would be because shockwaves tend to cause tissue - including the connective tissue that makes meat tough - to disintegrate, which is one reason why explosives are so dangerous.
And in fact, not only can you do this, but there’s a name for the process: hydrodynamic pressure processing. Here’s a link to an abstract for a patent on this process. Here’s a link to a paper describing the process, from NASA, oddly, and here’s another one with the full text available online. Apparently to do it right, you put the meat on a steel plate at the bottom of a plastic water vessel. Then you blow it up with something that will create a significant shockwave, without shredding the meat (C4 is too strong). No word on whether the plastic bucket survives.
Apparently this is a really good way to tenderize meat while preserving its overall texture, flavor, and juiciness. In addition, the explosion is particularly harmful to the bacteria leading to meat spoilage, leading to longer shelf life.
One of the articles in a news database I have access to suggests that a food processing company, Tenderwave, was formed based on the idea. (They also apparently used technology in other wacky ways, including using electricity to juice oranges, somehow). But I wasn’t able to find evidence that the company existed past 1999 or so. Here’s a description of Tenderwave’s tenderizing process:
A 7,000-pound steel tank is filled with water and lined with dynamite charges. The meat, packaged to protect it from water and contaminants, is placed in the water, and an eight-foot-tall, 5,000-pound steel dome is secured over it. When the dynamite goes off, about two feet from the meat, the shock waves travel through the water and tear certain muscle proteins in the meat... Developers say the Hydrodyne process could increase the tenderness of budget-grade meat by 50%-72%.
Anecdotally, my fiance also tells me that it is possible to toast a bagel by ironing it. Look for an entry on that soon.