Grain vs Grass-Fed Beef
This week in the Olliffe Test Kitchen we decided to join the debate over grass vs. grain fed beef. We secured a total of eight striploins of which 4 were grain-fed and the remainder grass-fed. The 100% grass fed striploins were purchased at a reputable butchershop in Toronto and Olliffe supplied the AAA Striploin sourced from Wellington County in Ontario.
The Wellington County beef is grass-fed in pasture and then finished with corn the last 90 days. Finishing with corn does increase the fat content and therefore marbling that contributes to tenderness and flavour.
The aged 100% grass fed beef was supplied through a reputable butchershop in Toronto sourced from Ontario. There is generally little marbling however, and the argument is that grass fed beef has a beefier taste.
As you can see there is a contradiction when grass-fed beef is said to have a beefier taste when at the same time corn-finished beef is to have more of the flavorful fat. Our testing kitchen wanted to get to the bottom of the debate.
Before cooking each tasting judge viewed the NY Striploins. The grass-fed muscle had beautiful deep red colour as the corn-finished was more opaque. Both had the same consistency in body when prodded however the grain-fed had considerably more moisture. Interestingly we noticed that the grass-fed butcher decided to leave on a considerable amount of fat covery around the steak. We wondered if this was to compensate for the lack of marbling.
The test kitchen and the six tasting judges were asked to grade each beef varietal on three merits: Texture, Tenderness and Flavour. It is important to state that the tasters were asked to put aside any environmental and nutritional arguments that have contributed to the debate and focus solely on the three merits that encompass taste:
Texture: The two opposing striploins were profoundly different. This was confirmed upon initial texture tasting. In the blind tasting each tasting judge had the ability to discern each varietal with 100% accuracy. Also, the fat left on by the grain-fed butcher was very tough and the judges were unable to chew through it.
Tenderness: After taking the rare steaks off the cast iron pan to rest we knew upon slicing that the grass-fed would be less tender. It should be noted that grass-fed steaks did have more of a chew but some people enjoy that, especially with a NY cut. The Wellington County corn-finished was very tender. Our test kitchen believes that the excess moisture in the grass-fed beef plus the high heat from the cast iron pan caused the muscle to contract that may have contributed to lesser tenderness.
Flavour: None of our tasters were able to discern a beefier flavour with either steaks therefore debunking the beefier tasting argument of the grass-fed. They definitely tasted different, but none were able to discern a grassy taste that is often attributed to grass-fed beef. Interestingly some of the tasting judges were able to sense a livery taste with both steaks.
Based on taste alone, setting aside nutritional and environmental arguments, The Olliffe Test Kitchen is able to state with confidence that the corn-finished beef is superior in each of the judging criteria of texture, tenderness and flavour.
An Olliffe butcher preparing a striploin
The two steaks searing in the Olliffe Test Kitchen