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What’s the Difference Between Grain-Fed and Grass-fed?

By   /  March 13, 2017  /  1 Comment

Shannon shares what grass-fed customers need to know about what makes a piece of grass-fed meat different from grain-fed, and what that means in the kitchen so they can have the best meal possible.

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Pasture-based farmers who direct-market their meats are forever answering the same questions from ne
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About the author

Shannon Hayes (also known as "The Radical Homemaker") works with three generations of her family producing grassfed meats on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in upstate New York. She is the author of several books, including The Grassfed Gourmet, Long Way on a Little: An earth lovers' companion for enjoying meat, pinching pennies and living deliciously, and Radical Homemakers. Hayes blogs weekly at TheRadicalHomemaker.net and holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University, where she studied sustainable agriculture and community development.

1 Comment

  1. Mike Dugan says:

    Hi Shannon,
    I believe reports in the literature are inconsistent regarding tenderness of grass vs grain finished beef. Variability is likely traced to a number of factors mainly fat cover, muscle glycogen, and age of the animal. With limited fat cover, if post mortem chilling is rapid, you can get cold shortening, which is a pronounced rigor contraction due to an imbalance between intra myocyte (muscle cell) calcium release and uptake, where lower calcium pump efficiency results in greater intracellular calcium levels which triggers contraction. If this rigor does not resolve during aging, the meat can be tougher. Grass finishing can also at times lead to lower muscle glycogen levels, related to differences in rumen volatile fatty acid profiles. When more forage is in the diet, their can be less propionic acid produced in the rumen, which is the precursor for gluose and ultimately glycogen synthesis in the muscle (glucose is not stored in the muscle itself, but is used to make glycogen, which is a polysaccharide). On a grain based diet, you can also get more bypass of starch from the rumen, which can be digested to yield glucose for absorption in the intestine. Muscle with less glycogen does not undergo as extensive anaerobic metabolism, and less lactic acid is produced from glucose (arising from glycogen), and muscle pH does not drop as much as normal. The meat can be darker as a result, and I believe sometimes resolution of rigor (i.e. Tenderization over time related to aging) can be impaired. Regarding the age of the animal, I believe connective tissue in animals older than about 16 months of age starts to toughentoug related to collagen cross linkage. The collagen can, however, be solublized with cooking at a lower temperature for a longer period. In your article you mentioned something about contraction during cooking and moisture loss. I don’t think this is actual muscle contraction, but relates more to connective tissue shrinkage. I hope this info helps sheds some light on why grass fed beef can at times be tougher than grain fed.

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