Walk into any high-end steak house and scroll through the menu until you locate a dish of ‘beef’ — chances are they’ll be a short description on how your cow was fed (if not, the waiter will surely talk the subject over at length).
As a country of meat eaters, we’ve very particular about the food we grow in New Zealand. Among farmers, the question of beef or grain-fed is as controversial as restaurateurs discussing the difference between medium rare, rare and well done. But when it comes to the food our food eats, what really matters?
Let’s start with the poultry dish.
Free-range vs caged chickens.
The argument for caged farming often comes back to economical value, but does it actually taste as good? A study in Poultry Science suggests that meat eaters can really taste the difference in living conditions.
In a study of 600 different birds, catagorised into caged, indoor and truly free range, participants were asked to evaluate the flavour of different chicken dishes to see if they could distinguish any differences in flavour. All chickens were killed and prepped in the exact same way and served in a blind test.
The free-range chickens, allowed to stretch their legs and nest in trees, were found to be the best tasting all round, with a ‘juicer’, ‘more tender’ and a ‘less fibrous’ taste. The reason — the chickens who were free range got more exercise and developed better muscle than their plumper indoor counterparts. The outdoor groups also had a higher amount of ‘good’ fats, the omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids, which are better for human health, and more varied, high-protein diets (which also arguably contribute to the taste).
Other studies suggest free-range chicken is higher in vitamin A and E and has less cholesterol. Lower stress levels, less disease and freedom from antibiotics also provide a better quality of meat overall.
Of course, there’s the ethical side of eating chicken to consider as well. Free-range chickens, with access to outdoor spaces, have more freedom, fight less and live healthier, better lives on average.
Grass-fed beef vs grain/corn-fed.
While what a cow eats isn’t a question of ethics, experts say it does have an impact on the taste.
The most notable difference is the amount of texture or ‘marbling’ visible in beef. Marbling is essentially fat, and on the whole grass-fed cows have less of it than cows fed on grain and corn. Some might prefer the marbling, which lends grain-fed beef a more ‘buttery’ taste, but grass fed is leaner, chewier and healthier, with more ‘meat’ per square inch of beef.
The reason for that is down to the more varied diet of a grass-fed cow. While high-grain fed cows eat a diet consisting of corn, soy, corn by-products and additional supplements, grass-fed cows are natural forages, benefiting from a wider variety of greenery that helps strengthen their muscles. Like free-range chickens, they’ve higher amounts of emega-3 fatty acids (roughly five times as much), fewer calories, CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) and beta-carotene, a natural antioxidant.
Generally, if you’re after after a more natural tasting beef that’s all meat, grass-fed is the way to go.
The best meat to cook with.
The real difference in meat quality becomes apparent when you try to cook with it — especially when making soups and broths.
When cooking, fat separates and congeals, creating an uneven texture. Even in a broth, where the meat is boiled for days to unlock all the flavours, fat doesn’t make for a better taste. Whereas a steak may seer the juices in, fat tends to dilute the beef taste in a broth.
Ideally, broth meat should be more muscle and texture than fatty tissue. Everything that goes into the broth helps enhance the taste, so the more flavoursome, and better quality the meat, the more textured the broth.
Why choose The Little Bone Broth Company.
At The Little Bone Broth Company, we focus on providing the most natural, organic broth on the market, using locally-sourced meats and ingredients. Slow cooked over three days to unlock all the texture (including the protein and nutrients naturally found in bones) our broth is low in sodium and added preservatives, relying on the meat itself to do provide flavour.
Why meat lovers should love broth.
Bone broth is a flavour-enhancing option that can be used as its namesake suggests, but also makes for terrific sauces, stocks, soups, drinks and anything else your culinary mind can imagine. Broth is a versatile cooking material that brings the taste of your favourite meats to any dish while allowing you to try different combinations you wouldn’t normally consider.
The final verdict.
Organic, naturally-fed meat options have more essential nutrients, fatty acids and higher concentrations of muscle to fat. Better quality meat means they’re better to cook with in most dishes, although if you like juicy steaks, you might prefer the extra marbling. But, considering all the health benefits, we’re fans of using organic, grass-fed and free-range meats.
To find out more, or see our stock options, head to our shop.
- “Does Grass-Fed Beef Taste Different?” on Certified Criollo Grass Fed Beef. Date Accessed: 30th January, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3Jp93I9.
- Fassler, Joe. “Does free-range chicken taste better” on The Counter. Date Published: 30th March, 2017. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3wEbuip.
- “Five Benefits Of Free Range Meat You Should Know About” on the taste. Date Published: 28th May, 2028. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3wXH62V.
- Price, Annie. “Free-Range Chicken Benefits vs. Conventional Chicken Dangers” on Dr. Axe. Date Published: 24th, September, 2018. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3wCelsn.
- Stanbroke. “Grass-fed Versus Grain-fed Beef: How Does It Affect The Taste?” on Steak School. Date Accessed: 30th January, 2023. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3Hl57FN. Thomson, Julie R. “Grass Fed vs. Regular Beef: Which Tastes Better?” on HuffPost. Last Updated: 24th March, 2014. Site Link: http://bit.ly/3HFilOR.