There are lot of labels and catch phrases these days, especially when it comes to the foods we choose. Often times we aren’t even aware of what these things mean. For example, we know it’s supposed to be good when a product is labeled “organic” or “all natural,” but how are the products actually different? How does it affect the quality, taste, and nutritional value?
The same is true for steak. People who really love steak, and consider themselves steakhouse aficionados, probably do have a deeper understanding of the beef trade. But for people who enjoy a steak now and then, understanding the different labels and descriptors can seem mystifying. For instance, what is Angus beef? What are the different USDA grades of beef? How about international grades and types of beef, such as the legendary Kobe beef from Japan?
Let’s back up to much more simple question. We see the terms “grass fed” and “grain fed” on packages of beef and steakhouse menus all over the country. But surveys reveal that the majority of people don’t really know the difference between these two types of product, or which one is more desirable from the consumer’s point of view.
When animals are grain-fed, they are often (but not always) fattened up more quickly during periods of concentrated feeding with other animals. The feed they’re given is usually from a base of soy or corn, and after reaching a target weight, they’re slaughtered and processed. The controversial use of growth hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals is often a part of grain-fed cattle operations.
Grass-fed animals, by contrast, are allowed to graze and forage freely in the pasture. These animals usually live longer and take longer to fatten up, since their feeding isn’t as concentrated or rapid. The purpose of grass-fed cattle operations is generally to provide the cattle with their natural preferred diet. It also allows them to roam, using their muscles and feeding instincts as they normally would.
In terms of nutrition, flavor, tenderness and juiciness, there’s a lot of evidence to support the superiority of grass-fed beef. It will usually contain less fat and a lower calorie count, which follows from the animal living a more natural and active life. The fatty acids within the meat is also something to consider. Grass-fed beef tends to contain less of the unhealthy fats (e.g. saturated) and more of the healthy fats, such as Omega-6, Omega-3, and Conjugated Linoleic Acid. Basically, since grass-fed cattle are often raised with a greater focus on natural and chemically free beef, the nutritional value is higher, the fat content is healthier, and the meat comes from a more active animal.
Comparing grass-fed and grain-fed beef for yourself
It’s an exaggeration to say that all grain fed beef is inferior or not worth having. In fact, some grain fed beef can be very high quality, depending on other factors involving how it’s raised. There are also situations in which cattle are fed on both grass and grain, resulting in a whole spectrum of quality.
But one thing’s for certain—some of the highest quality cuts of beef on the market are 100% grass fed. If you really appreciate a juicy, tender and flavorful steak, ask your local steakhouse for recommendations and try cut of grass-fed beef for yourself. After all, that’s the only way to really know for sure!