Grass-fed vs Grain-fed Beef
There currently exists a large debate circulating amongst the meat-lovers of the world regarding which is better — grass-fed or grain-fed beef? You may be asking yourself, is there even a difference between grass-fed and grain-fed beef?
In order to understand this debate, we will discuss the differences between these two raising techniques, along with if, and how, each technique affects the overall quality of the meat.
What’s the Difference?
At the beginning of a cow’s life, it spends its time drinking milk from its mother and roaming the lands, where it is allowed to forage and eat grass. This only lasts a few months, at which point the majority of cows are moved to feedlots, where their diet changes to grain-based. This is primarily done as a way to quickly fatten the cow up. In contrast, some cows are raised by allowing them to still roam the land and eat grass, or are fed grass in a feedlot.
Ultimately, the main difference consists in the diet of the cow as it is raised. Even though grain has historically been the predominant way to feed cattle, as the methods used to raise cattle have been evolving, grass feeding has become a turning point for the way they are raised.
Why Do Farmers Have Different Preferences?
When it comes to a farmer’s preference and decision on which technique to use, it usually comes down to the time and fat content that each method tends to produce. Typically, grain-fed cows will fatten up quicker, providing a faster profit for the farmer. On top of this, grain-fed beef tends to be higher in overall fat content, which gives the meat a higher degree of marbling, which is usually sought after for fine cuts of beef.
There are benefits for a farmer that chooses to raise grass-fed beef as well. As society continues to become more conscious of the environment and how we treat animals, especially how our agriculture techniques affect these, many people have begun to look for more sustainable methods to produce our food, and are even prepared to pay more for it. With this in mind, a farmer that takes the time and care to raise grass-fed beef can usually charge higher prices.
Therefore, even though grain-fed beef will usually be fattier and juicier, and grass-fed leaner, the decision between using grains or grass also heavily relies on economic and environmental factors.
Now that we know the difference in this aspect, it must be asked, does the difference actually matter for the health benefits and nutrition of the beef?
Much of the argument on the side of grass-fed beef lies in claims that it is healthier to eat. Since grass-fed beef is leaner, it will naturally have fewer calories, higher levels of Vitamin A and E, and more antioxidants. On top of this, grass-fed beef also has higher levels of alpha-linolenic acid, which is an omega-3 fat, and conjugated linoleic acid, which is considered to be linked to health benefits.
Though each of these qualities is healthier, in comparison to consuming grain-fed beef, some people believe that the difference is too small to actually affect our health.
So…Which is Better?
Overall, each agricultural method has its advantages. Grain-fed beef will be fattier, juicier, and more tender, while grass-fed will be leaner, and have slightly better health benefits. Along with this, the prices will usually differ. It is hard to say if one or the other is “objectively” better, especially since a large influence for people to buy grass-fed over grain-fed comes down to moral reasons regarding the treatment of the animal, as well as the effects on the environment. As with most debates in the culinary world, the choice ultimately comes down to personal preference.