An integral element of the beef industry’s focus on the consumer is an understanding of why people eat beef. Evolutionists tell us that humanity has changed its dietary patterns. We now eat more food from plant sources than from animal sources, but we should consider returning to a diet more like that of our Paleolithic ancestors, which featured high protein and low fat. 

Biologically, humans benefit nutritionally from meat consumption and benefit from consumption of beef. Beef is a wonderful package of essential nutrients, including zinc, iron and protein, and, if lean, compares favorably to chicken as a part of healthful diets. Great efforts have been made by supermarkets to present lean beef to their customers, including closely trimmed steaks and roasts and high-lean ground beef.

For cooked meat, the components of taste that determine overall palatability or the satisfaction gained from eating beef are flavor, juiciness and tenderness.

Of these palatability attributes, which of these accounts for the preference of those who choose beef over other red and white meats from farm animals? It isn’t tenderness or consistency of tenderness because both lamb and poultry are, on average, more tender than beef. Both beef and pork exhibit substantial variability in tenderness or toughness. 

It is likewise doubtful that it is juiciness, as both lamb and pork generally are juicier than beef, especially now that almost all fresh pork is “enhanced” by injecting it with a solution of water, salt and phosphate. Beef is, though, on average, juicier than poultry meat.

The palatability difference for those who prefer beef rather than pork, lamb or poultry is beef’s unique
flavor. If, however, the industry could deliver consistently juicy and tender beef with the exemplary flavor that results from 100 days or more of grain-feeding, many more consumers would routinely select beef as the meat of choice.

The juiciness of cooked beef increases almost linearly as amount of marbling in the muscle increases in much the same manner as the succulence of a baked potato improves with additional “pats” of butter.

The tenderness of cooked beef is determined by five structural and histological differences and by at least seven animal and carcass characteristics related to the genetics of the animal and the environment to which the animal was exposed. Tenderness of beef can be increased by harvesting more youthful cattle of types that produce genetically tender muscle containing increased amounts of marbling, and by managing to minimize stress, intramuscular injections and hormonal balances likely to toughen the end products.

Those who produce and market beef should realize that the end product they sell is not meat, it is taste.

People will pay more for greater satisfaction, and taste is their measure of satisfaction in food. Flavor desirability of beef can be increased by grain-feeding for about 100 days and by increasing the amount of marbling in beef muscles. 

Gary C. Smith is with the Center for Red Meat Safety, Colorado State University Fort Collins, Colo.