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The Taste of Grass-fed vs. Grain-fed Beef

By admin | July 20, 2011

photo: Ken Banks

When you order steak at a restaurant, it’s hard to tell just by sight where the cow was raised or how the cow was fed. More and more restaurants are informing customers whether their beef was grass-fed or grain-fed while it was on the farm. But can you taste the difference between grass-fed and grain-fed beef ? This handy guide will alert you to some of the taste distinctions you should pay attention to.

Beef is in high demand and has sky-rocketed in price over the past several years. This can only mean one thing: that cattle are grown and slaughtered faster than ever before. Most grain-fed cattle are ranched on feedlots are basically cubicles that hold in the cattle to ensure they eat grain. If you’ve ever driven by an organic farm, you will see cows eating grass. Cows are not genetically built to eat grains, like corn, and can result in their illness. In turn, farmers then give them antibiotics. Cows are also given supplements like animal by-products, which help speed up growth, which is generally not a healthy practice. Anything that the cow eats, you are in turn eating. This affects the taste of beef and of your steak.

On the other hand, grass-fed cattle are allowed to roam the pasture to feed. Letting the cattle eat grass makes for leaner beef. They reach their ideal weight much more slowly, which is why many farmers opt to send cattle to feedlots. Grain feedlots will fatten them up faster making it easier to produce more beef. Grass is high in protein and fiber and low in starch whereas grains and corn provide the opposite, producing beef higher in fat content. You may be thinking, “But I like tastier and fattier meats!”  That may be true, but grass-fed beef lends itself to a richer flavor. It may taste “off” or different but that’s just because our palates have been used to the same thing for decades. It’s easy to make an extra effort to look for grass-fed beef at your local farmers’ markets or health food store.  Try using www.eatwellguide.org to find farms and stores near you that offer sustainable and pastured beef.

Lastly, there is a debate on how to best age the beef. Dry-aging seems to be the consensus as the favorite way as it makes the beef tender with a rich taste. Butchers take big cuts of meat and store them in refrigerators at temperatures ranging from 34F-38F for 4 weeks. Since the meat loses a great deal of moisture and up to 20% of its weight, the flavors become more concentrated and intense. The muscle tissue also breaks down in the process, which makes the meat more tender and juicy.

Have you tried grass-fed beef?

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