Have you heard of the emerging trend of cooking meat using paracetamol? Why on earth would any sensible person do that? Well, the feeble reason goes like ‘’it makes the meat to cook faster? While it is an amazing discovery, we have to slow down on the practice till we are sure of what we’re dealing with.

This trend is common with food vendors who try to save cost and time and meet up with demand from customers. Eating at a restaurant might be a great way to stay nourished, but these days you have to be extremely careful where and what you eat; else you could be using your money to buy chronic kidney failure.

Paracetamol or Panadol is a household name when it comes to pain management, it’s the most abused over the counter drug around. While it’s not a narcotic pain reliever, you don’t need a prescription to buy paracetamol in Nigeria.

tenderizing meat
Paracetamol tablets

Even though you need a license and registration to sell drugs, it is common to see hawkers and retailers selling drugs like paracetamol in beverage and household utility stores or go about with baskets or boxes.

From investigations, this disturbing trend started around the year 2000, according to a blog post published on 5th May, [1]2002 on a Ghanian news blog, some food vendors use this method to marinate meat to save cost and meet up with demand from customers.

Just a few tablets crushed into powder can cook a big chunk of meat in just a few minutes.

Tenderizing meat

When it comes to cooking meat, marinating is not a new thing, our grandmothers have been using potash which contains potassium to marinate meat since Adam.

The French and Chinese have been using various methods of cooking meat. Simply put marinating meat is literally cooking the meat chemically. Instead of utilizing the acid in paracetamol, a better choice may be fresh orange juice, pineapple juice, baking soda, vinegar, some wine, and the list goes on.

Out of ignorance or simply shortcuts,  these food vendors use paracetamol to cook meat to avoid the long hours of boiling. The excuse of meeting up with demand doesn’t cut it for me, expanding a growing business at the expense of people’s health is totally unacceptable.

According to Dr Ronald Kigula, a lecturer at Makerere University last June while presenting a paper on drug abuse, “the use of paracetamol as meat tenderizer isn’t only peculiar in Nigeria and Ghana; there are reported cases in Uganda. Not totally shocking, paracetamol is also used to soften other food like legumes there”.


 Paracetamol or panadol is also known as acetaminophen is a pain reliever and a fever reducer [2]. The exact mechanism of action is beyond the scope of today’s post. Principally, paracetamol or panadol tablet contains other substances like maize starch, potassium sorbate, purified talc, stearic acid, povidone, and soluble starch [3].

While it is not clear which of the constituent of paracetamol is responsible for tenderizing meat and legumes, my guess would be the acidic by-products of acetaminophen during a chemical reaction known as hydrolysis.


Pharmacologically, acetaminophen is metabolized (broken down) by the liver and removed by the kidneys. In a healthy adult for example, at a therapeutic dose, the process is usually seamless and paracetamol is said to be the safest drug out there, because of its risk-benefit ratio as compared to other pain killers like ibuprofen, diclofenac, or narcotics.

Tenderizing meat

However, ‘’taking just a few extra paracetamol tablets a day over time could lead to a dangerous overdose and even death, a new study suggests. Paracetamol overdoses are the leading cause of acute liver failure in Britain, usually occurring when patients take a vast number of tablets all at once.’’[4]

Paracetamol or Panadol may have been fabricated to treat mild to moderate pain; it definitely, wasn’t made to tenderize meat. Besides, it is definitely not wise to use pharmaceutical products for any other purpose than what they were manufactured for.

According to a Ugandan medical practitioner and blogger Dr Vincent Karuhanga, ‘’Damage to the liver results from a panadol breakdown product, N-acetyl-p-benzoquinoneimine removed from the body the liver’s natural antioxidant glutathione but panadol in excess will deplete the glutathione directly damaging the liver, leading to liver failure.’’ [5]

Levels of glutathione are significantly low in people with excessive intake of alcohol, or who are observing a fast. Taking paracetamol or eating meals cooked with paracetamol while having a hangover, observing a fast or with liver problems can further damage your liver.

This can cause health problems that’ll cost a substantial amount and finally your life.

That brings us to the next question.


 It’s time to wake up and stop killing ourselves, I personally do not like buying from restaurants. I prefer a home-cooked meal. But we should be mindful of things we put into our mouths. So instead of cooking meat using paracetamol, why not follow the steps below?

  • Select the right part of the meat.

Cooking meat starts with selecting the part you want. If you prefer the intestines, liver, kidneys, brains, muscles whatever part, choose wisely.

  • For muscles; as you observed, the muscles that form the chunk of the meat are arranged in fibers. 
  • Slice the meat against the grain.
  • The grain simply refers to the direction the muscle fibers are aligned.
  • Observe the fibers run from the top to the bottom.
  • Slice meats into smaller fibers
  • cut meat against the grain into smaller pieces

Note: cutting against the grain means the fibres are shorter, which makes it chewable and the tissues more absorbing.

  • Cutting along the grain is the opposite, this time the fibres are tough.
  • Pound the meat gently with a tenderizer or pestle.

It helps to breakdown the tense muscle fibres and the proteins that hold them together.

  • Marinate the meat properly, simply put in wine or vinegar, baking soda and fruits like orange or pineapple.

This breaks down the fibers in a chemical way. Same thing paracetamol does when used as a meat tenderizer.

This time instead of the acid in paracetamol, it alkalines the protein and unbinds the protein molecules. Therefore, tenderizing meat chemically without the acids

  • Do not use more than one method to marinate your meat. For example, while using baking soda do not use wine or lime.
  • Do not use excess baking soda or vinegar while marinating.
  • Use fresh fruits while tenderizing meat. Using chemically ripened fruits would not cut it.
  • Using fruits doesn’t only add flavor to the meals; fruits contain loads of nutrients your body would benefit from.
  • Sprinkled orange juice should refrigerate to 8- 10mins before cooking.

Cooking meat with paracetamol and panadol isn’t a healthy practice. Please desist from it today!

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Mrs okolocha

    This is a wonderful write up and am really impressed.very interesting and educative

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