After a dinner over steak on Friday night, the conversation turned to the difference in taste between Grass Fed and Grain Fed cattle. This was brought on by the waitress telling us of the delights of eating “hop fed” beef, an idea that many of us at the dinner table found silly.
There is much to be said for the value of grass fed cattle. Grass is a low-starch, high-protein fibrous food, in contrast to carbohydrate-rich, low-fiber corn and soybeans. When animals are 100% grass-fed, their meat is not only lower in saturated fats but also slightly higher in omega-3 fatty acids.
Also important to note is the fact that, unlike feed lot cattle, raised on grain and stuck in a small cubicle for much of its life, those who advocate for grass fed cattle also tend to let their cattle go out to the field and graze. The result? Muscles that are grown naturally, rather than artificially induced growth done through the use of hormones.
Let’s set aside the ethics of the practice, and focus on the resulting taste of each practice. Let’s presume that the quality of rotational grazing is high. as is the breed of cattle for the grass fed beef. For the grain fed, the cattle would have to been bred for its lifestyle. Also, let’s compare one of the pinnacle cuts – prime rib.
The major difference, from what I can tell, comes from the additional levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can impart everything from a nutty, buttery flavor, to gamey, to even some reports of a fish-like taste. Let’s not discount the texture of the cut of beef either. Cattle that is mobile may result in beef that is denser, and tougher to chew.
Ultimately, my guess is that the flavor of grass fed beef comes down to the quality of care given given to the cattle by the rancher. What makes feedlot cattle such benefit to those in the beef industry is its resulting consistency of product. There’s profit to be had when beef tastes the same in Arizona as it does in Oregon, even if that taste is mediocre at best.
Grass Fed cattle, it seem, enters several new variables to taste that must be accounted for in some way or another. And if the rancher chooses to ignore one of them, the resulting taste of beef may be less than ideal to a consumer.
More research is needed.