May 16, 2016

Demand for grass-fed beef is growing, and for many good reasons. If you're in the market for some, here's some vital info:

It's a healthy, relatively lean protein source. It has less total fat than grain-fed beef (the kind most often sold in supermarkets), perhaps as much as 50 percent less. Similarly, saturated fat in a grass-fed steak is around half as much as a grain-fed steak. It has fewer calories, ounce-per-ounce, more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and more antioxidants as well. To be fair, conventional beef clearly bears valuable nutrients and beneficial fats, but the composition breakdown is indeed different.

It looks different from grain-fed beef. Breed and diet play into this, but speaking broadly, a grass-fed strip steak will appear to have less fat marbling (streaks throughout the red portion) than its grain-fed counterpart, and the fat itself will be more yellow than the white fat on grain-fed. Lower marbling attests to its lower calorie and fat content, while the yellow tint indicates higher beta-Carotene levels (the stuff that helps make carrots orange).

It tastes different from grain-fed beef. Flavor descriptions vary, depending on the taster and the beef itself (the cow's breed and its particular grass diet—did it eat alfalfa? Bermuda grass?—will influence taste). But it's fair to say it won't taste the same as the grain-fed beef you may be used to eating. And this is critical to bear in mind. Because if you buy grass-fed beef expecting health benefits and grain-fed flavor, you may become disillusioned. Folks who don't like grass-fed taste sometimes describe it as gamey. Grass-fed fans call it beefier, bolder-flavored, and pleasantly mineral. Know this: it's not as "gamey" as true game, like venison, antelope, or elk, or as strong as some cuts of lamb. But however you describe it, you will notice a difference.

It's more expensive than grain-fed beef. Which stands to reason. Labor and operating costs tend to be higher at grass-fed cattle ranches. A lot of work goes into ensuring that the cattle eat the right grass (without depleting parts of the pasture), and in the right amounts (so they gain weight at the proper rate, which according to some ranchers is 2 pounds a day), and the end product is priced accordingly.

You need to cook it differently. Cliffhanger: details to come in another post next week.

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