Grain-Fed Beef Cuts Prevail In National Taste Test

News Release


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: May 1, 2006
CONTACT: Norman Martin, norman.martin@ttu.edu
(806) 742-4108

LUBBOCK – Asked how American beef eaters prefer their sizzling slabs, almost 85 percent favored high-quality beef cuts produced from cattle fed on grain, according to a national taste tests report done by scientists at Texas Tech University.

The report, released last week, reflects a consumer preference toward higher fat content cuts, which were considered more tender, juicy and flavorful when compared with grass-fed cattle.

“Using this new information, beef producers can go back to the genetic drawing board to fine tune their products to more closely meet these specific consumer desires,” said Markus Miller, a meat science biologist at Texas Tech.

More than 1,400 volunteers participated in taste panels at sites in Lubbock, Phoenix, Ariz., and the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area. At each location, they were given small samples of freshly grilled or cooked roasts and steaks and asked to rank the tenderness, juiciness and flavor of the cuts.

Evaluations included ribeye, round, sirloin and tenderloin cuts of beef, both as roasts and steaks.

“Technically, we were looking for what’s called the palatability target,” Miller said. “We found that consumers could sort out subtle differences among cuts, and based on those evaluations, they preferred grain-fed beef.”

Grass-fed beef has a taste and flavor similar to wild game such as venison, while grain-fed beef, with its higher white fat or marbling, has a more intense flavor, he said.

To get an accurate taste profile of U.S. beef consumers, the Texas Tech researchers teamed with the independent meat industry group Meat and Livestock Australia. The Australian group, led by noted cattle producer Rod Polkinghornes, assisted selecting and shipping the study’s Australian grass-fed cuts.

Asked the value in knowing that Americans prefer their high-quality cuts of beef grain-fed, Miller explained that specific taste preferences could one day be tailored to allow beef producers to essentially custom-build cattle from the start that better match consumer tastes.

It also opens the door for making beef cuts much more tiered in terms of quality, he said. Just as there are high-end levels of wine now, there could be extremely high quality beef cuts available in stores.

“Really, in the past, no one knew the consumer preference they needed to target,” Miller said. “This study moves us from a subjective type of opinion to real data based on real people.”

Miller said a more detailed analysis of the study in the coming months will focus on demographics, such as matching income, gender, education and regional variation levels to beef preferences.

“There are value differences,” he said. “Some people will pay almost anything for a steak as long as the eating experience is very good. Then there are some consumers who will only pay the minimum amount, regardless of the eating experience. They just want it cheap.”

The beef most Americans consume comes from cows that mature in a feedlot, eating corn and other grains, until slaughter – a cycle of between 14 and 16 months. By contrast, the average life span of a grass-fed cow is between 20 and 26 months. Pricewise, grass-fed beef – particularly if it’s organic – tends to be more expensive than conventional.

-30-

Contact: Markus Miller, professor of animal and food science, (806) 742-2805, ext. 231, or mfmrraider@aol.com