Decoding the meaning of grain-fed and grass-fed beef
We hear the debate about grass-fed or grain-fed a lot, but a strikingly large number of Australian red meat consumers don’t really know what either of those terms mean. They have both been in ‘vogue’ products with ebs and flows in popularity and both seem to have a fairly good wrap. But we thought we would help you understand the real difference, so next time you’re at the butcher buying meat you can make a decision that suits you.
What it means: Grass-fed beef typically means the animal has been raised on pasture for all its life. It grazed on various types of grass until it reached market weight.
How it impacts the animal: Grass-fed comes with a lovely mental image of a cow happily roaming a paddock for its entire life – and this is pretty accurate. The animals are likely to get more exercise than grain-fed because they roam, however it takes a longer time to reach market weight, so are an older animal.
How it impacts the meat we eat: Researchers at California State University examined almost 30 years of research into the health benefits of grass-fed beef and found that it had higher “good fats”, Vitamins A and E, higher levels of antioxidants and was lower in calories than non-grass-fed beef. However, this has been the subject of contention as while these concentrations might be higher, the impact on the human diet is incredibly small in the overall scheme of things.
Grain Fed Meat
What it means: Grain-fed beef means that cattle must be fed a grain based diet for over 60 days. This is often the last 60 days of its life as the grain based diet can increase weight rapidly, helping the animal to reach market weight faster. The grains fed are usually what, barley or sorghum.
How it impacts the animal: The image of grain-fed isn’t always favourable, with feedlots presenting a case for unfavourable living conditions. The feedlots often appear overcrowded and don’t allow the animal to roam freely and exercise. In Australia, feedlots must adhere to the National Beef Cattle Feedlot Environmental Code of Practice (the Code of Practice) which ensure the animals are looked after in ethically considerate conditions.
How it impacts the meat we eat: While The health benefits are considered to be more abundant in grass-fed beef, grain-fed typically leads the flavour stakes (no pun intended). It has a buttery flavour and as fat acts as an insulator, it cooks better leaving more tender meat. The fat on grain-fed beef has a brighter, white appearance compared to the sometimes ‘yellow-ish’ appearance of grass-fed making it appeal more to consumers.
At the end of the day, as long as you know where it came from, most Australian beef – grain-fed or grass-fed is pretty similar. Just choose your leaner, grass-fed cuts carefully and cook them well to ensure you always enjoy beautiful flavour! Which do you prefer?