Buying beef these days can be a little overwhelming. Now you not only have to decide between cuts of meat but also how you want your beef produced. With labels reading “Non-GMO”, “100% Angus”, “All Natural”, and more, it is hard to know exactly what you are eating and what gives the beef its label. So we thought we would pull together a Beef Buyers Dictionary so you can know exactly what it is you are buying and consuming.
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism or the change of genetic material of a plant or animal that would not occur naturally. For beef production, non-GMO implies that the cattle were not fed a diet that includes genetically engineered ingredients. So while the beef itself has not been genetically modified directly, the bulk of a cow or the qualities of the beef may have been achieved through GMO feed.
Grass-Fed beef refers to the diet of the cattle being raised for consumption. Grass-fed cows are allowed to graze for their nutrients rather than solely being fed grain or other non-naturally occurring food sources. However grass-fed cattle may be fed similar forms of feed such as alfalfa to substitute and balance their diet throughout the year, but the emphasis is still on a diet as close to their natural diet as possible.
Grain-finished beef, like grass-fed, refers to the diet of the cattle. Grain-finished, however, does not indicate that a cow has only been eating grain, but that grain is a large part of the cow’s diet in addition to potential grazing. Grain-finished beef tends to have more marbling and is often more tender, as grain helps the cattle to gain weight faster than they might if grass-fed.
Hormone-free beef comes from cattle raised on a diet that does not include the introduction of added hormones for growth. Hormones can be added to the diet to help cattle grow without grazing for exercise. Hormone-free beef comes from cattle that have grown due to proper space and range to build their size naturally.
Antibiotic-free beef refers to cattle that are fed a diet that does not regularly include antibiotics for disease prevention or growth. This means the meat is actually less likely to include antibiotic immune bacteria.
Dry aging is an aging process of beef that increases tenderness and flavor. The beef is exposed to a carefully controlled environment with specific temperature and humidity levels for a set period of time to facilitate enzyme breakdown and oxidation which concentrates and strengthens the flavor.
Unlike “hormone-free”, “non-GMO” and “grass-fed’, “all natural” does not refer to the diet of the cattle, but rather how the meat is processed. All natural means that there is no artificial ingredients, chemical preservatives or colorants added to the beef.
Despite the common misconception that Angus refers to a quality of beef, Angus is actually a breed of cattle. Angus beef is known as a higher quality form of beef because it is known for its marbling or inter-muscular fat which adds to its flavor and tenderness.
Like Angus, Wagyu refers to the breed of the cattle. Wagyu cattle is a Japanese breed, “Wa” meaning Japanese and “gyu” meaning cow. Waygu beef, similar to Angus, is known for its intermuscular fat cells or marbling as well as it’s tenderness and flavor.