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Grass vs Grain


The question of whether grass or grain fed beef is better is a hotly contended issue, and all passionate cattle farmers will tell you their way is best. Perhaps it is. Different breeds have different feed requirements and different seasons determine the need for supplementary feeding. Most farmers respond to the requirements of their herd as necessary to gain the right finish for market.
Gingin black angus breeder David Roe from our cover story this issue comments;
“It doesn’t get any better than good grass fed beef, for taste, juiciness and sustainability but the trouble in WA the window we can produce it here, is about 6 weeks from mid September till late October when the grass protein and sugar levels will allow us to do so. Plenty of grass fed cattle look ok outside that window but won’t eat as consistently as grain fed.”
Grain fed beef has reached the pinnacle of trendiness in top restaurants over the past few years, with menus boasting “300 day grain fed wagyu” as their prime beef dish. So what the difference?
Hard core advocates of paleo diets and naturopaths will tell you that grain is no more a natural part of a cow’s diet, that of ours, and indeed studies done in the U.S. have shown grass fed beef to be more nutritious, containing almost double the quantities of beta-carotene, almost three times the amount of Vitamin E, sixty percent more Omega 3 fatty acids and a more favourable Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio that their grain-fed counterpart.
Grain fed beef also contains more saturated fat and consequently more calories. However, it’s hard to ignore that fat tastes good, and gives grain-fed beef it’s succulence and softer texture. Beef which has been fed on grain for a long period of time is favoured in restaurants because of it’s consistency and also it’s even flavour, which makes it easier to spice up with special sauces and to match with other tastes within the dish.
This tendency of restaurants to highlight grain fed beef on their menus has led to a consumer demand for it, believing it to be superior. Butchers have responded by demanding more grain fed beef, but we’re missing out on the benefits of pure grass fed meat, and our palates are being numbed to a homogenized flavours. These days good butchers will tell you if their beef has been grain fed and for how long. As consumers it’s useful to know when grass fed meat is at it’s prime, and make the most of it. Be prepared to enjoy the sometimes tougher texture to appreciate the more intense flavour, and health benefits from eating a meat in a more natural state.