Passing through the grocery store, consumers are bombarded with packages peppered with adjectives like “organic,” “all-natural,” and, one of the newer buzzwords, “grass-fed.” But what exactly does “grass-fed” mean and is it better?
Grass-fed means cows are fed grass; however, all cattle are fed grass initially. The distinction is that some cows are fed grass and then finish the last few months of their lives with a diet of grain while others graze on grass their entire lives. The marketing standard for the “grass-fed” label was recently removed by the United States Department of Agriculture, but consumers should look for “100% grass-fed,” which means the cows are fed grass their entire lives.
This is important whether you are buying beef to grill hamburgers this summer or stocking up on beef protein snacks. Lorissa’s Kitchen makes its Korean Barbecue and Szechuan Peppercorn protein snacks from 100% grass-fed beef with no added nitrates or preservatives. As if this weren’t enough reason to choose grass-fed, here are a few more reasons grass-fed beef is better.
1. Grass-Fed Beef is healthier.
Why should consumers choose "grass-fed" beef over other varieties?
“The best reason is that grass-fed is healthier for you. There have been studies that show that the omega 6-3 ratios in grass-fed beef are vastly superior to feedlot beef. The reason for this is that corn is high in Linolenic Acid, which is a common omega 6 fat, while grass is high in Alpha-Linolenic Acid, which is an omega 3,” said Levi Powers, who manages a grass-fed beef and certified organic farm in Wisconsin. “This ratio is important for health because if it gets too high one way or the other, it can lead to poor health.”
“I believe the old adage that we are what we eat, but understand that sentiment to be significantly impacted by what our food eats as well,” said nutritionist Lindsea Burns. “A healthy, grass-eating cow will have a healthier fatty acid profile in its meat, as well as a higher nutrient density of fat soluble vitamins, especially vitamin A.
2. Grass-Fed Beef is quality beef
Grass-fed beef is also free of the hormones and chemicals that feedlot cattle are fed daily.
“The best way to ensure that something is truly grass-fed is to either knowing your farmer and his farming practices or finding beef that is certified as grass-fed. This is a tricky one because there are farms that will sell beef that has been raised on grass but finished on grain,” said Powers. “This means that they graze the animal on grass most of its life and then the few months before it is butchered, they will feed grain to pack on the weight. A really good question to ask anyone you are going to buy (or research if you are buying in a store) is if the cows are grass-finished or grain-finished.”
3. Grass-Fed Beef tastes better
While grass-fed beef doesn’t have as much marbling, it’s still tender, juicy, and flavorful.
“Beef will reflect the flavor of its feed, which is why every corn-fed steak at Walmart will have the same boring, conformable taste. It's because corn all tastes the same,” said Powers. “If you have beef that is raised on diverse pastures, the meat will reflect those complexities.”
Age also matters.
“Another huge factor for flavor is the age of animal at butchering. Most grain-fed steers live anywhere from 12-18 months before they are butchered, whereas a grass-fed steer needs at least 2 years to reach maturity,” said Powers. “The slower the animal puts on weight, the more flavorful the meat will be.”