Grass-fed and grain-fed are terms used to describe the feeding program for grazing animals like cattle. Here’s an overview of what these terms mean for the beef you’re eating.
While most cattle are raised eating grass, many farmers “finish” their cows on feed mixtures made from grains and corn. This process fattens the cattle up faster and gets them to market sooner.
While there’s nothing harmful about grain finishing, it does change the composition and flavor of the meat. For example, grain-fed beef is heavily marbled and has a buttery, slightly sweet taste. Most people describe it as melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Grass-fed beef comes from cattle that spend their entire lives eating grass. Typically, they graze on pastureland in the spring and summer, then eat hay in the fall and winter. Raising beef this way takes a lot of time, as grass-fed animals take six to 12 months longer to reach market weight than grain-fed animals. This extra time makes it more expensive for the rancher and the consumer.
Grass-fed beef is leaner and darker in color than grain-fed beef and has a slightly gamey taste. It is somewhat higher in nutrients like beta carotene and vitamin E. It also has more omega-3 fatty acids.
Despite variations in cost and taste, both grain- and grass-fed beef are excellent sources of protein, B vitamins, iron, and zinc.