Grass-fed Beef Flavor

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Hey Grass-feeders:  

I just bumped into this post on another Cheftalk thread.  Any opinions as to the relevance of this? (Recall that my initial post described the odor of the cooking beef as "like pig liver".)

In 2008, R. Wadhwani submitted his graduate thesis at the University of Utah on the the very subject of liver off-flavor in beef steak (Google: "Cause and prevention of liver off flavor" for the pdf).  Around page 22 of his thesis he presents his hypothesis that the liver off-flavor is a result of inefficient blood drainage from the beef carcass. Given that beef liver itself is saturated with hemoglobin/myoglobin giving it its very distinctive taste, and the fact that the liver (and other organ meat) is removed immediately upon slaughter thus sustaining the blood content, I see no fault with his hypothesis. My understanding is that the off-flavor is further heightened by prolonged storage, such as freezing; where the meat is practically marinating in its own blood.

Knowing what we do now of the practices in the big commercial beef producers/slaughterhouses, it's not surprising that the time needed to properly raise and process a cow is not a priority for them. To avoid this unpleasant taste in what you hope to be a nice steak dinner I suggest you do not purchase your beef from any of the mega grocery chains. I only occasionally indulge in a steak dinner -- because when I do it is fresh, USDA prime, local, grass-fed, and raised free of added hormones and antibiotics -- and yes, it costs more.
 
 
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PS to AC:  Another issue with your proposed Option C is that by feeding corn to the cow, it would appear that you eliminate some or much or all of the health benefit, which is said to be particularly in the Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio.  Grassfed beef is said to have a wildly better ratio, that is, far more threes vs sixes.
 
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I think it was Angus-man who recommended an article on Slate entitled "Raising the Steaks" about flavor comparisons among several vendors and breeds and feeding styles.  Since I went through hell to find the article (six years old!) here's the link:

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/shopping/2006/11/raising_the_steaks.html

Lot of good commentary in that article.  Interested to read that they (apparently) cooked all steaks with exact same methodology; Aldersprings Ranch in Idaho beat out Niman for Best In Show.  A.R. raises predominantly Red Angus.
 
 
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NOTICE:  I was WRONG about the "unbelievable" pricing of the grassfed beef on americangrassfedbeef.com  I can't account for my error; all I can do is correct it.  Their price for rib eye steaks and strip steaks is about $75 for six 8-oz steaks, so about $25 per pound.  Reasonable.
 
 
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Cattle originated in the same part of the world where wild barley first grew, North Africa, the Middle East, Southern Asia.  Cattle started eating grain long before human beings began eating grain.  Grain was a seasonal part of their diet.  When grass produced grain seedheads, cattle ate it.  The starch in the grain seed heads fattened the cattle so that they could survive on their fat stores in seasonal climates.  When human beings began cultivating grain, they used cattle as draft animals to plow the grainfields.  And ever since, wherever human beings have gone, they have taken grain and cattle.  After human beings began hoarding and monopolizing grain, cattle had to evolve to survive eating grain only when it was fed to them by human beings.

The truth is that cattle can eat grain, and naturally have eaten grain in the past.  The difference now is that most of the cattle grown for beef production in the United States are fed a diet that contains a high percentage of starch grain for an extended period of time in a feedlot.  Yes, that is not a natural diet.

If you believe that cattle are not supposed to eat grain, and that grass fed beef is the only option from a health standpoint, then this thread is a lost cause, it does not apply to you because you will never eat grain fed beef.

I personally believe that this type of sentiment is exactly what is protecting the feedlot industry in the United States.  If an animal is fed one single grain of corn then it is considered as tainted as the rest of the animals in the grain fed industry.  I believe that a lot of people in the United States have tried grass fed beef from cattle that were not consuming enough calories and nutrition to grow and develop properly, it tasted nasty, so those people decided to return to getting their beef from the supermarket.

As a small producer, I would like to raise and sell high quality beef outside of the mainstream "food chain".  I do not think that the climate where I live will allow me to raise grass fed beef that would have a taste that is fit to eat (as Butcherman described, nasty, extremely unpleasant).  If I feed the cattle a grain of corn, my beef is tainted, therefore I have no market for what I could produce.  So, I am forced to send my cattle down the road where they will eventually end up going from the feedlot to the supermarket along with everyone elses cattle.  This system does not reward anyone who is trying to produce superior cattle or better beef.  So, you have what you have.

And lastly, Wadhawani is trying to paint an unpleasant picture of beef production.  Blood draining has nothing to do with the bad taste of some beef, when you cut the head off and remove the heart and internal organs, the blood comes out, you can't keep it in.  The same people that are processing grass fed beef are also processing grain fed beef the very same way.  There is a difference in taste that has nothing to do with the processing.
 
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AngusMan, or anyone else on this thread interested in marketing beef via the Internet could profitably review a site named docscows.com  Doc is a cantankerous guy, and I think his site is a hoot.
 
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My sisters and I purchased a side of grass-fed beef, completely free of hormones or any of the other nasty things that corn fed traditional beef could typically contain.  I excitedly awaited the butchering of our beef so we could try it, and due to the "healthier" reviews of grass-fed, it would actually be good for us.  The first night I barbecued a T-bone and a Ribeye.  I anxiously cut into the steak, put the fork in my mouth, and was immediately disappointed.  I thought maybe I hadn't seasoned the steaks enough, or maybe hadn't cooked them long enough, and varying other reasons for the disappointing taste.  However, each piece of meat I have cooked since that time has produced similar results.  Instead of the taste growing on me, and liking it more and more, the opposite has happened.  I can no longer tolerate the smell of it cooking, and once it is done, before I can take a bite of it I'm overwhelmingly put off by the smell and taste.  Maybe there is something genetic here - maybe this smell/taste is not pervasive to others because of genetics??  I was so excited and looking forward to eating grass-fed.  I've done everything I can do to season it just right, even going as far as to cover it up with excessive seasoning.  Nothing works.  I'm so disappointed in the way it tastes, I will never buy it again.  It cost a small fortune for a side of this beef and I guess I just expected so much more in taste and quality.
 
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It is a generally accepted idea that animal meat flavor is influenced by what the animals eat.

As such, it is reasonable to expect that corn fed beef will taste different than beef raised on grass and, in fact, grass fed beef flavor will be influenced by what grasses were consumed by the animal during its life.

When I worked in the Middle East I discovered that the lamb served, as well as the mutton, tasted completely different than what I was used to eating in the Western and Mid-Western US. In fact, the initial taste was very off-putting for me. I have since learned that fat tailed sheep taste different than the typical breeds in the USA and that the vegetation in the Middle East is far different than in the USA, Australia, or New Zealand.

Along similar lines, I have eaten venison from various locales and the flavor varies widely.

If one has eaten corn fed beef for most of their life and suddenly switches to grass fed, a change in flavor, and even texture and tenderness, should be expected. I know many cattlemen that I worked with in the 1960s and 1970s who detested the flavor and texture of corn fed beef as they had eaten local, grass fed beef for all their lives and become accustomed to the taste.

In my experience, when changing from one type of food stuff to another, it is best to start with a minimum of seasoning, preferably only salt and pepper, until I learn what enhances and what detracts from the different product.

Not only are there differences between corn and grass fed beef and different breeds of sheep, wild duck tastes different than domesticated or farm raised duck, Wild salmon tastes different than farm raised salmon, and the list goes on and on.

In fact, the French have a word or expression for the differences, terroir. Quoting from Wikipedia (yeah, I KNOW)
Terroir can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place," which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product.
Perhaps this has some influence?
 
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I've never seen a cow in a cornfield eating corn - it isn't natural - hell humans should eat corn conservatively.  I realize they will most anything put in front of them, but corn especially Monsanto corn is just not right.  I wonder if they'd eat acorns?  Pigs and venison raised on acorn is amazing tasting.  I prefer my beef to be grass fed - it's leaner and more gamey tasting - like when we was kids.
 
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New to Grass-Fed,

Can you tell us the city and state where the grassfed  beef was raised?  When did you purchase the beef, was it recently or in some years past?  Beef is not cheap to produce and not cheap to process, so a side of beef is a significant investment for both the producer and the customer.  I feel like a producer should not try to sell something that their customer would not be happy with.  Did you contact the beef producer and ask them if you could return the beef that you did not use?  If they feel that they have produced a good product and they have a large group of customers that purchase their product, they should not have a problem finding someone else that is interested in purchasing the beef and refunding your money.

My own opinion is that if you do not have a medical condition that prevents you from eating grain fed beef, then all-natural grass pastured grain fed beef (finished on grass and grain with no hormones, antibiotics, or ionophores) will give you the best flavor for a very good value.

Butcherman/PMC,

I have been studying the subject of grass-fed beef some more.  The American Grassfed Association has a published list of standards for grassfed and grass pastured beef.  The most important standards are:

"3.1.1 All livestock production must be pasture/grass/forage based."
 

"3.1.2 Grass and forage, shall be the feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning.  The diet shall be derived solely from forage consisting of grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g. legumes, Brassicas), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state."

"3.1.4 Animals cannot be fed grain."

"3.1.5 Animals must have continuous access to pasture and forage appropriate to the species."

"3.1.6 Forage is defined as any herbaceous plant material that can be grazed or harvested for feeding, with the exception of grain."

What this means is that grassfed cattle can be fed almost any plant material, except for grain.  The most significant health benefit of grassfed beef is that it can be eaten by people who have celiac disease, wheat allergies, or corn allergies.

Since grassfed beef is not strictly limited to eating only grass, but can also be fed forage, anyone with a knowledge of the nutritional content of common forages and the nutritional requirements of beef cattle should be able to select a diet that would greatly improve the taste, tenderness, and marbling of grassfed beef (make it much better than feedlot beef).  I'm going to go as far to say that someone could produce a bright red muscle/white fat, extremely tender, choice to prime, market ready carcass at 16 months of age if they feed a British breed (Angus or Hereford) steer.  Assuming that a forage based diet costs twice as much as a grain based diet, an average cost of $5.50 per pound of carcass weight, or $8.40 per pound of retail product for all cuts (steaks, roasts, ground beef, cut and wrapped) would not be out of line.  Which all means that if the beef is fed properly, in a little over a year's time you could be eating grassfed beef that makes you say "I have never had beef this good before in my entire life".
 
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When grass produced grain seedheads, cattle ate it.
3.1.1 All livestock production must be pasture/grass/forage based." ... What this means is that grassfed cattle can be fed almost any plant material, except for grain.  
So what happens when grass-fed cows go on pasture today, and the grass produce grain seedheads: are the cows instructed not to eat it? /img/vbsmilies/smilies/wink.gif
 
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In fact, the French have a word or expression for the differences, terroir. Quoting from Wikipedia (yeah, I KNOW)

Perhaps this has some influence?
Terroir sure as heck has some influence. I have tasted meat - and cheeses - from cows pastured on the one hand on salt marshes at the Baltic coast and on the other hand on high-altitude alpine pastures. The difference is massive. Both were brilliant, but in completely different ways.
 
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Thanks GM and AC for the latest posts.  I hope Chef McCracken is still monitoring, because I'd like to ask his opinion (and, as well, the opinion of others) on the extension of each of these issues. 

On the issue of terroir, I wonder how we encourage, celebrate (and obtain!) some of these beeves GM is noting. I recall when I was still wearing a butcher's apron, there were turkeys marketed which had been fed on a specific diet, chestnuts perhaps, and their meat was much in demand by those who knew.  Why couldn't a steakhouse waiter at, say The Palm (am I showing my age?) announce, "Tonight, our chef is featuring a twelve-ounce steak from steers grown in the Baltic region, feeding on the grasses of the salt marsh, and he's searing it and...."

And AC's query goes right to the heart of the validity of the claims of the biochemists that the meat of grassfed steers contains a vastly superior ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s. How DO you keep the cows gobbling the grass, yet not eating the grain-heads?  Or is the issue purely corn, as a feed?  The lingo always lays out as, "Grassfed vs Grainfed", but perhaps the second place should be "cornfed". However, the Paleo Diet, so named, proscribes corn AND wheat, and so it proscribes the meat of animals fed on those foods.

One of the sub-issues may be evolution of these various grains.  I mean to say, the manipulated evolution of such.  And, PS, I'm no Luddite; I realize that if you look back in time, the foods we clasp to our breasts today as Natural/Normal/Wonderful are the product of centuries of "manipulation".  Apples.  Celery.  You name it.  But the cardiologist who wrote Wheat Belly (and runs the website of that name: "lose the wheat; lose the weight") argues that when dwarf wheat was developed, perhaps fifty years ago, we entered uncharted territory. Now wheat was being grown which had been developed SOLELY for its Yield Per Acre, with NO attention to what this new strain of wheat might do in our gizzards.
 
 
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My younger brother also raises Angus cattle.  This weekend he told me that one time he took his steers to PX Feeders to be fed http://pxfeeders.com/index.asp .  They were fed in a feedlot, a dry lot, with no grass.  He had the beef processed the same way that he always does, dry-aged 14 days.  When he tasted the beef he was not very happy with the flavor of the beef, it did not have the same good flavor that he was used to, it lacked flavor.  The flavor of the beef that he raised at home, that was fed corn while on grass pastures had a much better flavor.  He told me that cattle need to eat grass to produce beef with the best flavor.  I once thought that eating grass hurt the flavor of beef, but I've competely changed my opinion.  I now believe that eating grass greatly improves the flavor of beef.  Whether the animal is eating corn or not eating corn, as long as the animal is consuming enough calories to support their specific level of growth, eating grass does improve the flavor of the beef

Here are a few articles that address the health benefits of grassfed beef versus grain fed beef:

http://lowcarbage.com/tag/omega-6/

http://www.meatmythcrushers.com/myt...-nutritious-than-corn-fed-beef.html#footnote1

http://agnews.tamu.edu/showstory.php?id=1934

Dr. Stephen Smiths study on the effects of eating corn fed ground beef versus grassfed ground beef:

http://jn.nutrition.org/content/141/6/1188.full?related-urls=yes&legid=nutrition;141/6/1188

A study released in 2009 that shows that corn fed beef has more fat than grassfed beef, but corn fed beef has more monounsaturated fat (good fat) than grassfed beef:

http://www.animal-science.org/content/87/3/1120.full.pdf
 

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