In our previous post we described how complex pastures create complex flavors in our beef.  We discussed a number of other factors that play into the “beefy” flavor of our pasture grazed animals compared to the simple flavor of conventional beef.  When people first taste grass-fed beef they usually comment that it tastes “gamey”.  Around here I guess they are comparing that taste to deer.

citation buck

Jacob with his 2013 citation buck. Note the unusual second beam on left side of head.  Maybe someday Doug will get lucky!

Deer can travel wherever they like and eat whatever they like.  They can select the most nutritious food that is available year round.  Over the years I have shot a number of deer in this part Nebraska (still waiting for my chance at one like Jacob’s above).  During the cleaning of these deer I have noted that deer being opportunistic, will also feed on corn and other grains.  Yet, with over 50,000 deer harvested in Nebraska last year alone, I can’t think of a single time when someone said “that deer tasted like corn-fed beef.”

Healthy wild game tastes “gamey” for the same reason grass-fed beef tastes “gamey”.  It is the complex foods consumed by these animals that makes the meat flavor complex (and healthy).  They are not force fed a simple starch diet like conventional beef, with the sole purpose of getting fat.

The grain consumed by deer would be unlike the grain fed to conventional beef:

  • Whole kernel grains, not processed, rolled or roasted
  • Grain would be part of a complex diet, not a simple diet designed for getting fat
  • Grains would only be consumed seasonally, not for a significant time leading up to harvest

Now consider our beef herd.  We do not allow the cattle to run free like the deer (this keeps our neighbors happy).  We manage and control the herd movement to insure our cattle will have fresh forages year round.  During the non-growing season, “fresh” means a section of pasture that has not been grazed for the previous 4+ months.  Unlike deer, our cattle never receive any grain to insure that our beef has the healthy fat profile desired by our customers.

You know what nutrient dense food tastes like.  Remember the last time you ate an apple and thought to yourself, WOW that tasted great.  It doesn’t happen very often with a store bought apple these days, but maybe it came from a local orchard, and you just knew it was a good apple.  That good flavor came from complex nutritious compounds in the fruit.  Well, the next time you bite into some grass-fed beef with a noticeable flavor, just remember that flavor came from complex nutritious compounds in the meat.  This nutritious beef will satisfy you on a smaller portion size compared to conventional beef and you will feel better after eating it.

If you are finding the more complex flavor of pasture grazed beef is difficult for you or your children to adjust to, try our hot dogs or brats.  Consider using stew meat with vegetables or turning that pound of hamburger into meatloaf.  Use your imagination and your taste buds will soon adjust to what is naturally known to us as good tasting food, that is good for us.

Folks have commented that they really like how our ground beef fries up in the pan with little “grease”.  A friend said, “yeah, love grassfed beef, but still think it tastes a little ‘gamey’.”  I asked, “‘Gamey’ or ‘Beefy’ flavor?”   After a moment he said, “Ahhh, maybe that IS how beef should taste.”  Your taste buds aren’t confused, they probably don’t know any better, let me explain…

If you have spent anytime on our website, you know we refer to our beef as Pasture Grazed rather than grassfed because our cattle consume more than just grass.  Take a look at a list of known plants growing in our pasture:

Complext flavor of beef

“complex pastures create complex flavor in meat” – Grazing guru Jim Gerrish.

In addition to the flavor from our pasture, in earlier posts we discussed the following factors that play into the flavor/taste of our Pasture Grazed Beef:

  • TIME – overall flavor comes with animal maturity.
    • Our beef is harvested after 24 months of age.
    • The last 60-90 days of feed probably influences flavor the most.
  • FATS – Lynne Curry in her book Pure Beef notes:
    • “omega-3 level is one of the reasons grassfed beef has a more intense taste than grainfed beef”
    • Remember our beef is high in those good Omega 3 Fats!
    • Phospholipids fat, the fat we cannot see, stores the flavor.
    • The triglyceride fat we can see will be a hard creamy white to a tint of yellowing.
  • DRY AGING – Lynne Curry has this to say:
    • “It’s all a matter of taste, but many people find dry aging critical to giving the muscles their due time to dry and contract, concentrating the flavors, and letting the calpain enzymes do their tenderizing work.”
    • Our beef is allowed to dry age at least 14 days.
    • Since our beef is vacuum packed, consider letting it thaw in your fridge for an additional “wet age” period.
  • COMPLEX Pastures = primary and secondary plant metabolites
    • In this past post we encouraged you to “eat the rainbow” for your health.
    • Our cattle can transfer to us the part of the rainbow that we cannot eat first hand.

Now let’s take a look at the feed source for typical conventional beef:

Feedlot beef rations

Simple rations result in simple flavors in meat.

Look at the above feed for the last few months of feedlot beef.  Pickup some conventional hamburger at the grocery store.  Now look at the above list again, these are the primary ingredients that make up the store-bought hamburger.

  • Pickup up any other prepared food product in the grocery store.
    • Corn, corn, soybean and more of the same.
    • Aren’t you tired of eating corn for three meals a day?
    • Consider eating beef with real “beefy” flavor.
  • In addition to the simple feeds, feedlot beef are harvested much younger and don’t have the time to acquire “flavor”.
  • Dry aging, due to the time and locker space involved, is not practiced for conventional beef.  It is “wet aged” in a package waiting for purchase at the store.
  • Finally, when you add grain to the diet, the beef rumen bacteria populations switches over to “proteolytic”.
    • The good omega 3 fat disappears, along with the conjugated linoleic acid.
    • The fat turns from a hard milky white marble to a clear greasy fat.

So enjoy some “beefy” pasture based beef!  Just as folks like trying different wineries for the different flavors from each vineyard, we encourage you to try different pasture farm beef!  The different makeup of each farms pasture will give a unique flavor to the beef you find there.

pasture grazed beef

Late summer 2015 grazing, 24+ month old steer (mature flavor) on left. Not just grass-fed our herd is pasture grazed.  The cow in the right image literally ran past the rest of the herd to get to this patch of showy partridge pea when turned into this new paddock.  What was she seeking?  A specific nutrient, mineral or flavor?  Maybe she just likes the pretty flowers in our pasture?

 

I recently visited with a friend who shed some weight over the past year, when I asked how he lost the weight, he replied “improved my diet”.  He obviously “gets it”, notice he didn’t say he was on some kind of “diet” he just changed to a “healthy diet”.  One specific diet change he mentioned was that he was eating grassfed beef rather than conventional beef.  We discussed the “known” benefits of grassfed and then he pointed out that his son, who raises conventional beef, refers to grassfed as “Voodoo Beef”!

With our first Pasture Grazed, 100% grassfed beef in the freezer, it was time to find out for ourselves, is there really a difference between a pasture grazed beef compared to typical (corn-fed) beef?

Grassfed ribeye raw and grilled

Example of a DS Family Farm Rib Steak (2015 Steer Tag 18) before and after grilling! When the bone is removed this is known as a Ribeye Steak.  Do not trim the fat from a grass-fed steak!  Eat the fat, it is good for you, keep reading…

We sent in a rib steak (ribeye after removing the bone) from a 2015 harvested steer to Midwest Laboratories in Omaha Nebraska for analysis.  With the results in hand I searched out some “typical” beef analysis to compare our pasture grazed beef with.  It didn’t take long and I had two similar† “reference” samples from the USDA and Canada nutrient databases.  Below we compare a DS Family Farm Pasture Grazed steak to some “typical beef” steaks – Canada record 6068 and USDA record 23271.

grassfed vs conventional nutrition label

Nutritional information on three lean ribeye steaks. Our grass-fed sample on left compared to two “typical” Government reported samples, Canada (middle) and USA (right).

Let’s Talk FAT!

  • Trans Fat?  Yes there is natural Trans Fat in beef, not the added hydrogenated vegetable oils (bad stuff).
  • Looking at the above three samples, I believe the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules would allow all steaks to be labeled as ZERO TRANS FAT since they are all 0.5 or less.  So when you check any food product label, if it says ZERO TRANS FAT, it may actually not be “zero”.
  • Always avoid food items with any ingredient listed as “partially hydrogenated“.

Warning – pie charts below!

Total fats grassfed vs conventional

Chart 1: Total Fats: Our grass-fed sample on left compared to two “typical” Government reported samples, Canada (middle) and USA (right).

  • Chart 1 – ALL FATS do not fear good grassfed fat!
  • I was once brain washed with the “fat is bad for you” message.  I believe more folks are understanding it is High Carbohydrate Diets (Low Fat diets) that can be linked to heart disease and diabetes.  This study at Ohio State University points out:
    • Increasing levels of carbs in diet during the study promoted a steady increase in blood fatty acids.
    • Carbs are being converted to fat instead of being burned as fuel.
    • Reducing carbs and adding (good/portions) fats ensures the body will promptly burn saturated fat as fuel.  (This will take a resetting period for your body to switch between using carbs vs. fat for energy).
    • Please watch the OSU video that points out your brain is 60% fat!  Eat fat to fuel your brain!
  • Chart 1 displays a noticeable difference between SFA – Saturated Fatty Acids versus MUFA – Monounsaturated Fatty Acids in grassfed vs. conventional, we will look at these individually below.
Saturated Fatty Acids grassfed vs conventional

Chart 2: Saturated Fatty Acids: Our grass-fed sample on left compared to two “typical” Government reported samples, Canada (middle) and USA (right).

  • Chart 2 – SATURATED FATTY ACIDS (SFA)
  • Note in Chart 1 = 60% of the fat from our pasture grazed beef is SFA vs. around 50% of typical beef is SFA.
  • Chart 2 = two main SFA, Palmitic (tropical oil) and Stearic is better balanced (?) in our beef versus typical beef.
  • Tropical (palmitic) oils are gaining favor with nutrition folks, get yours from our Midwest 100% grassfed beef!
MUFA grassfed vs conventional

Chart 3: Monounsaturated Fatty Acids: Our Grassfed sample on left compared to two “typical” Government reported samples, Canada (middle) and USA (right).

  •  Chart 3 – MONOUNSATURATED FATTY ACIDS (MUFA)
  • Note in Chart 1 = 35% of the fat from our pasture grazed beef is MUFA vs. around 50% of typical beef is MUFA.
  • Chart 3 = primary MUFA is oleic acid, also known as Olive Oil.
  • Grassfed has a higher percentage of the SFA Palmitic (good fat, chart 2) but a lower Palmitoleic MUFA (bad fat, chart 3).
    • According to the OSU study, in humans, “Palmitoleic acid, a fatty acid associated with unhealthy metabolism of carbohydrates that can promote disease”.  Could this apply to cattle also?
PUFA grassfed vs conventional

Chart 4: Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Our grass-fed sample on left compared to two “typical” Government reported samples, Canada (middle) and USA (right).

  • Chart 4 – POLYUNSATURATED FATTY ACIDS (PUFA)
  • Note in Chart 1 = 4% of the fat from all three sample is PUFA.
    • The Holy Grail of Fatty Acids
    • The Essential Fatty Acids
    • Notice a difference?  Hint – a balance of green & yellow is recommended.

Stay tuned we will dive in to the PUFAs in our next post!

† I selected these reference samples because they were of the same part of the beef.  We sent in a Rib Steak which is a Ribeye with a rib bone still attached.  The bone was removed, so our sample was a ribeye when analyzed.  I consider our beef lean so the selected reference samples used were identified as “lean”.  We are still building our soils and forages and striving for higher fat (marbling) percentages in our beef.

Note, I am not an expert on fats nor statistical analysis.  Feel free to dive into the Government data and check my calculations for the two samples listed above.  If you find any discrepancies, please email me: doug@dsfamilyfarm.com.  If you have comments please share them on our Facebook Page.

grass-fed cattle.

1948 Cario Nebraska, cattle on grass. (Photo by Flickr Commons)

Recently I came across an article on the Omaha World-Herald website that was part of their “Locally Grown” series on food trends.  This 2012 article “Beef: Grass-fed vs. corn-fed” is an interesting read about two locally raised beef.  I share it here for those of you researching local foods and grass-fed beef.

Interesting to me was how the author readily acknowledges that most of the beef we consume are raised with “antibiotics, hormones and grain”.  Further down in the article it is also noted that “feedlot cows” encounter distillers’ grain (alcohol plant waste) and have to fight muddy conditions (that would also include standing in their manure).  On a side note, the author failed to mention that most conventionally raised beef are also treated with beta-agnonists (Beta-agnonists: What are they and should I be concerned?).  Is it true that most consumers know that the beef they consume are raised this way?  If they did, would they continue to consume it or possibly ask for alternatives?

Since we raise only grass-fed beef I have a few issues with the overall “test” between a cow named grass-fed and a grain-fed beef, but I will leave that for another day.  I do not dispute the conclusion of the article, that there is a definite difference in taste between grass-fed and grain-fed.  
Grass-fed beef tastes like beef grandpa use to raise.
1958 AB Canada, cattle in feed yard.

1958 AB Canada, cattle in feed yard. (Photo by Flickr Commons)

What created the grass fed movement of the late 1990s through today?

D S Family Farm cattle spend their entire lives on grass pasture.

D S Family Farm cattle spend their entire lives on grass pasture.

Prior to World War II, all beef and most other meat production methods had grass as part of the animal’s life cycle.  Today’s store purchased meats, only beef, lamb and goat have some type of green forage as part of their life cycle.  Beef purchased at your local grocery store will have consumed forage for the part of their life span that they were with the momma cow after birth and most likely for a while after being weaned.  Chicken and pork are just plain out of luck in today’s production methods to have had an opportunity to consume any type of green living forage during their life span.

What happened right after World War II?

In summary, excess war munitions were converted to cheap nitrogen fertilizer.  When unleashed to U.S. farmers, surplus corn production resulted.  The question became, where can we dispose the excess grain?  The “solution” was to confine animals and feed grain based diets.  For the chicken and pig, the grain was not a huge problem, they have simple stomachs, but the cow with her multiple stomachs and special rumen (designed for forage) took a health hit.  A diet high in grain results in high levels of acid in the rumen.  To counter high acid levels, low levels of antibiotics were added to cattle feed to keep the cattle growing and prevent further health issues.  As you can imagine not an ideal situation for cattle.

A return to common sense and the Grass Fed Movement, enter Jo Robinson’s Eat Wild website and book “Pasture Perfect”.

An early promoter of the grass-fed movement, Jo Robinson’s website is full of grass-fed information from the basics to the advanced.  Her information is well researched and documented.  If you would like a free copy of her book “Pasture Perfect”, just contact us for a farm visit and the book will be our gift to you.  WARNING: I find it extremely difficult to this day to eat fast food chicken after reading this book.  For an alternative to conventional raised chicken consider finding a local farmer that raises chickens with grass as part of their life cycle (pasture poultry post).

Grass Fed Movement goes prime time, with Michael Pollin’s“Power Steer” New York Times article  in 2002.

Pollin’s article follows the typical life of a steer (young male beef animal) from its birth place on the prairies of South Dakota, to a confined animal feeding operation near Garden City Kansas.  The “power” part of the article title stems from the fact that there is a large amount of oil consumed for each pound of beef produced in this manner.  The article does an excellent job describing the use of hormones, antibiotics and other concerns such as E. coli that are all issues related to store purchased beef.

So what’s the big deal about grass?  I will let you answer that question for yourself.  As for this farm, we have seen first hand the regenerating wonder of grass in our pastures, soils and with the animals we raise.  On the most basic level of life as we know it, there is profound truth in the following verse:

  • All flesh is grass, and all its beauty (constancy) is like the flower of the field.”  (Isaiah 40:6 (b), ESV, emphasis added)