Can you taste the difference between grass and concentrate-fed beef?
Irish grass-fed beef is marketed globally on the strength of its unique colour and taste. Cattle graze for up to 300 days of the year here in Ireland, compared to the intensive feedlot systems in other beef-producing countries.
Irish grass-fed beef is consumed in countries across the world. In 2016, Ireland exported an estimated 535,000t of beef worth approximately €2.38 billion, according to Bord Bia.
However, can the consumer really taste the difference or the uniqueness of our grass-fed beef?
Researchers from the Teagasc Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre in Grange, Co. Meath, and University College Dublin looked at whether beef from grass-finished cattle is different to beef from concentrate-finished animals.
The study included 50 Charolais heifers weighing between 250kg and 300kg and aged 224-280 days. Heifers were assigned to either a pasture or concentrate ration for 332 days prior to slaughter, with the hopes of determining the effect of long term pre-slaughter grazing or concentrate feeding on beef quality.
Animals grazed a predominantly perennial ryegrass pasture, while concentrate animals were housed in a slatted shed and offered a rolled barley and molasses beet pulp ration and barley straw.
After 14 days of ageing after slaughter, sensory characteristics of the striploin were assessed by a trained taste panel.
The researchers carrying out the study concluded that while statistically significant, the differences in tenderness were small and may not even be detected by consumers.
While you may not be able to actually taste the difference, our grass-based system in Ireland allows us to produce beef sustainably and provide a natural environment for cattle.
In addition, research has shown grass-fed produce provides more added nutrients, such as essential fatty acids, Vitamin A precursors and Vitamin E.