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'Fat equals flavor'

Press Photo by Lisa Miller Cattle graze along Old Highway 10 early Friday morning. Researchers are trying to determine how a cows diet affects meat quality.

Keeping consumers and cattle happy and healthy can be a challenge for producers but one way of doing that is by watching what their cattle eat.

"More and more research is being done to figure out if what a cow eats can affect the flavor and quality of the meat," said Dr. Eric Berg, North Dakota State University associate professor in the Meat Science Department.

The Research Extension Center is conducting a study to see if field peas make a beef's meat more tender, and Carl Dahlen, NDSU Beef Extension specialist said he read an article about people in Canada feeding red wine to their cattle to enhance the flavor of the beef's fat.

There was a taste test done recently that showed consumers can detect a difference in meat from grain-fed cattle versus pasture fed cattle, Dahlen said.

"Most people preferred the grain fed beef," he said. "But people who grew up eating pasture fed beef liked the pasture fed beef better."

The grain-fed beef cattle have more flavor, Berg said.

"Feeding corn as a supplement in a beef's diet produces more marbling in their meat," he said. "And there is a saying in the beef industry that fat equals flavor."

Marbling is one of the attributes the U.S. Department of Agriculture looks at when grading beef, said Kurt Froehlich, Stark County Extension agent.

"The more marbling the piece of meat has the higher the grade because it is more tender and enhances a good eating experience," he said.

What may account for the difference in taste are the type and amount of fat the two types of cattle acquire.

"Pasture fed beef have less fat than grain fed beef because they don't eat as much grain," Berg said.

While they may have less fat, the fat they do have has a higher proportion of omega 3 fatty acids than grain-fed cattle, Berg said.

"Feed lot fed cattle's fat is higher in mono and saturated fat, which is the type of fat in olive or canola oil and is thought to be more heart healthy," Berg said.

The pasture-to-plate process is very well thought out, Dahlen said. Deciding what to feed your cattle is a decision not to be taken lightly.

"Cattle, like people, need the proper nutrition to stay happy and healthy. You need to start at the bottom of the food chain to ensure good nutrition at the top," Dahlen said.