Umami, with hints of sweet and salt; cooked meat evokes a primal response in the palate. 

steakfordinnerIt’s the maillard reaction that gives cooked meat the flavor of umami. The application of heat denatures the proteins and when they are recombined with the sugars that are present, it creates the smell and flavor that stimulates salivation. It’s just kind of how we are wired.

While eating red meat is a HUGE topic for a variety of reasons too numerous to address in this small post on taste and flavor, it is safe to say that the average consumer is so inundated with misinformation that it’s no wonder it is such a hot topic. Here’s a little bit of useful information to help sift through all the confusion.

First and foremost, all red meat is not created equally. Where and how it was raised and what it was fed directly impacts the nutrient density and chemical compounds available in the end result. There is a drastic difference between the quality of grass-fed/pasture centered and grain fed, lot centered meat.  For the most part conventionally raised meats are grain fed (and heaven knows what else) and raised in conditions that can require the regular use of antibiotics in order to attempt to maintain the health of animals living in such close quarters.  We’ve all heard that consuming saturated fats from things like red meat contributes to heart disease, increased cholesterol, and any number of other inflammation based ailments. However, research over the past years is demonstrating that it isn’t necessarily saturated fats in general that are the culprit contributing to ill health, rather it is a specific type of fatty acid. One that is found in significantly higher amounts conventional grain fed beef.  Grass fed beef on the other hand, according to data collected over the past two decades, contains a different concentration of fatty acids, making it significantly better for overall health.

“Research spanning three decades suggests that grass-based diets can significantly improve the fatty acid (FA) composition and antioxidant content of beef, albeit with variable impacts on overall palatability. Grass-based diets have been shown to enhance total conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) (C18:2) isomers, trans vaccenic acid (TVA) (C18:1 t11), a precursor to CLA, and omega-3 (n-3) FAs on a g/g fat basis. While the overall concentration of total SFAs is not different between feeding regimens, grass-finished beef tends toward a higher proportion of cholesterol neutral stearic FA (C18:0), and less cholesterol-elevating SFAs such as myristic (C14:0) and palmitic (C16:0) FAs. Several studies suggest that grass-based diets elevate precursors for Vitamin A and E, as well as cancer fighting antioxidants such as glutathione (GT) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity as compared to grain-fed contemporaries.”(Daley, et al., 2010)

grassfedcollageFurthermore, how you cook your meat also has a direct impact on the antioxidant levels and concentration of beneficial nutrients. Research demonstrates that rare to medium and slowly cooked at lower temperatures provides the best combination for the most obtainable nutrients.

It’s also helpful to know that not every body is designed to eat meat and not every body is designed to not eat meat. Some bodies work very well on a plant based diets and some don’t. It’s important to listen to your own body to begin to identify what your real needs are despite what anyone around you says. For indigenous peoples around the world eating meat has been a significant part of a healthful and conscious diet for thousands of years. Whether or not it is the right and healthy thing for your body depends on your body type, the type and quality of meat you are choosing, and how you prepare it.

All of that being said, I believe it is very important to be picky about what kind of meat you do choose to eat. Sustainably reared and humanely dispatched is really the only way to go for reasons too numerous to mention, not the least of which are your health and the health of the planet. It may cost a little more but it is well worth it.

Other ways to contribute to sustainable and humane animal husbandry besides searching the store for it; get a couple of friends together and participate in a share program. Some small Farmers and Ranchers are creating share agreements that allow you to “purchase” an animal and what it produces and they raise it for you. You can do this with products like milk, eggs, wool, and meat.

Curious to read further research? This article is a great place to start: