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Jul 28, 2011 09:48 PM

Our grass fed beef tastes like fish, why?

We splurged this last year and bought 1/4 of a grass fed cow. I am fine with the slightly tougher texture, etc, but neither hubby nor I like the taste of this meat. I have had grass fed before from Whole foods and liked it, but this stuff tasts like FISH (it is very reminicent of the aftertaste of fish oil capsules taken for health). The taste is especially strong near bones (our prime rib at Christmas was a disaster because of this, we pretty much filled up on potatoes and tossed the beef). No matter what cut, and no matter how I prepare it, this taste is dominant. I have never had trouble making beef dishes before, but this stuff we can barely choke down. No eating pleasure in it at all.
Fortunately, this batch is almost gone and I am looking to buy another 1/4 of a cow. How do I avoid this again? What would have caused this, should I fault the farm or the butchering or none of the above?
Thanks in advance for any tips:)

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  1. Hi, ansluasi:

    It could be any or none of the above. What *kind* of grass was the animal fed? Sweet Timothy or alfalfa will taste different from prariegrass, scrub or weeds. Who killed, butchered, cut and wrapped, te rancher or a third party? I cannot prove, yet I *swear* I've had meat from others' animals end up in my freezer when I paid for it to be MY animals that I fed.

    Another possibility is that your prior experiences with "grass fed" were not entirely so. Chains and their vendors are not above passing off grain fed and grain-finished beef as grass-fed. So this may well be your first experience with purely (or largely) grass-fed. Personally, as a 3rd generation cattle guy, I prefer grain-finished.

    Still another possibility (albeit doubtful) is that your animal was actually fed a protein supplement that included fish byproduct. This happens.

    What was the breed and was your quarter a front or hind? How old was the animal? These are also important variables.

    Finally, if what you're used to is grain-fed or grain-finished beef, grass-fed is going to taste different despite all the other variables. Folks who've *only* eaten grass-fed sometimes have similar comparable complaints about grain-fed. I'm not a food chemist, but experience raising and eating my own animals tells me that the increased Omega -6 and -9 fats in grass-fed may remind you of some similar fat profiles in fish.

    My suggestion is that you try a small amount of a recognized premium brand of grass-fed and see how it compares to what you bought. Start eliminating the variables and ask questions. It's worth it in the end, because the grass-fed is better for you, the animals, public health and the environment. But if you don't like it, please don't feel compelled to buy it.

    Hope this helps.


    9 Replies
    1. re: kaleokahu

      Whole Foods in my area sells a product out of Missouri. I can tell you by looking at it that it's not entirely grass-fed, and that's the case with a lot of so-called grass fed beef. In MO the ranchers move the cattle to fields when the grass begins to seed (which makes it grain). They also plant cereal grains for forage and hay, the latter harvested at the seed state. Many producers raise 100% pastured cattle that get a heavy dose of grain in the diet. I personally don't have a problem with this, and I think the beef tastes better, but the whole grass vs. grain debate is so misinformed, it's a shame this kind of deceptive marketing has to happen

      That said, you're probably tasting iron. Do you notice a metallic taste?

      1. re: kaleokahu

        I am not sure what they were fed on. I did visit the farm, and did see the cattle out in pasture. To my inexperienced eyes it looked like very high quality grazing, very green, very lush, few weeds, no scrub, etc. Definitely wasn't alfalfa. I am guessing a high quality pasture grass mix, but I now know to ask next time:) The cattle were Angus and it was a young animal.
        Pretty sure that it isn't just a taste aversion to grass fed. I have had it from Whole Foods, like I mentioned, and also had some at my parents' house in WNY. Loved all of it. It does taste a bit beefier to me, but I enjoyed it. This weird fishy flavor in our poor cow is dominant even in things like curry and taco meat with lots of seasoning added.
        After reading all the replies on here, I think the blame might lay at the processing end. Is grass fed ground beef supposed to be mushy? Ours is, when thawed, and looks more texture wise like it came out of a food processor than a grinder. Even my KitchenAid grinder attachment makes more normal looking ground meat. The steaks and roasts seem VERY bloody when thawed too.
        It was a mixed 1/4, both front and hind. The weird taste is throughout all of the cuts, especially near the bones, where it is flat out inedible, even to my husband who will eat almost anything.
        I won't give up though, we are lucky to have several grass fed farms in our area so I will keep trying:)

        1. re: ansluasi

          I've noticed from the last 3 farms I've talked with that their grass-fed beef was grain-finished. I bought from one of these farms. But I'm not sure whether I will buy grass-fed beef with a grain-finish again. Not because of the taste, but when I pay the price, I want strictly grass-fed.

          Many years I didn't eat beef because it tasted gamey. Growing up on a farm, I never noticed a gamy taste. I haven't noticed a fish taste on the meat we recently bought.

          I have wondered if we got the meat we paid for, mainly because it does seem inconsistent. I "believe" it is the law here in VA that a grower of beef has to have it processed by a processor - other than the grower.

          1. re: Rella

            Another issue with grain finished is that it is not grassfed any longer. Almost all cattle are on grass a portion of their lives, that does not give the seller they right to call them grassfed although they do because they understand the power of marketing. They understand what the consumer wants so if they can redirect your attention from the finish to what happens prior to finish then you will buy their product feeling better about your purchase. I have been involved in meat studies of beef that we have raised, both grass finished and grain finished. We also tested some animals that were grassfed and finished on "mostly" forage but with distillers grain added to the ration since the starch is removed from distillers there are some that say it qualifies as grass finished. I no longer agree with that idea because, the testing shows that the meat fed distillers had the same basic CLA and Omega 3 levels as grain feed animals, much less than pure grass finished animals. Don't be fooled by the marketing, only grass and green forages qualify for grass finishing, no grains if you want the benefits of the grass finishing process. I work every month to educate producers on how to properly raise grassfed beef. It is not rocket science but it is an art. The art is in the grass production not the animal production, grow excellent forage and you will have excellent beef as long as you have the right genetics.

            One problem with genetics is that we have increased the average size of the animal for bigger and more meat as we do most things in the US. Although this trend goes to most corners of the world. The problem with bigger animals is that the bigger they get the less efficient they are with feed. Bigger animals require more feed. Makes since right? It is hard to fatten an animal on forage the is "designed" by genetics to be too big, they put on size instead of meat and fat, in other words they don't finish leaving a lean product because they are not finished. This probably more than you wanted to know but this is a good discussion and I hope that you can learn something that will help you be a better and more educated consumer. We have a food epidemic in the world that is killing us with unhealthy food. The more you know the better you will feed your family and the healthier we will all be. A good question for a producer is to ask them why they do what they do. Someone who can express their passion for healthy food and a healthy community is a good one to consider buying from.

            1. re: GrassfedNetwork

              "Someone who can express their passion for healthy food and a healthy community is a good one to consider buying from."

              There lies the rub. Most farmers I have spoken with do express their passion in this way, and raise their beef in a responsible way and generally talk the talk. But when one continues talkng with the passionate farmer, it always ends up with the conversation regarding the 'grain finish' whether cows or chickens.

              1. re: Rella

                Sounds like you are doing more of the talking than they are. I talk with ranchers all the time and most will show their colors fairly quickly given the right questions and allow them to talk. Grain is a problem for cows, not chickens, chickens were designed to eat grain although if you have the space to truly free range they generally do just fine. We have never feed our chickens. Understanding a ranchers or farmers background is a good place to start. If they have grown up in the conventional world it is very hard to make the transition even if they want to. They have to have a reason for their passion first, then they can learn how to make it actually work. :-) There is definitely a limited number of true grass finishers all that being said.

                1. re: GrassfedNetwork

                  Yes, I must form my questions correctly and allow them to talk.
                  Thanks for your help.

                  1. re: Rella

                    My guess is that you passion is fairly apparent so anyone selling to you is going to show the same passion ... if they are at all smart. You probably need to hold your cards a little closure to the vest when talking with ranchers/farmers. :-)

                    1. re: Rella

                      Another point is that of semantics. See, grassfed is a buzz word these days so many independent ranchers are trying to figure out how to use the word in their operation and especially if they direct market. The semantics problem is that they may be using the exact same words that you are but obviously have a totally different meaning than you do. You may want them to clarify what they mean by words they use even if you think you know. It is always important to understand what they mean by what they say which may be very different than what you understand. So, the result is you have an entire conversation with someone and think that you are talking and agreeing about all this stuff only to learn later that you don't see eye to eye on more than one or two points. Clarify the words that are being used. :-)

        2. This grass-fed beef site has a FAQ section addressing that issue:

          "Wild fish taste fishy because of their high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. All grass-fed meats taste fishy, grassy, or gamy because of their high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids."

          3 Replies
          1. re: ferret

            I'm not sure why the beef is fishy, but I can say with reasonable certainty that it ain't the omega-3. Grass fed beef and omega-3 fat is nothing but propaganda. But, the grass fed has 60% more than grain fed! Yes, it does. But, 60% more of what original amount? Therein lies the catch that's never brought up.

            Red meat just isn't a good source of polyunsaturated fats (plenty of saturated!). A serving of beef is going to have less than 1 gram and even a smaller portion is omega-3. How much smaller? under 100 milligrams. Now, if you've got a super palate, you may be able to pick up that little amount, but it ain't happening for most of us.

            To take some wild/complete guesses on the strange flavor, I'd wager it on processing or storage, with a side bet on something extra (not grain, but not grass) being added to the diet. And, I suppose a bit on the refined palate factor.

            1. re: ediblover

              I suspect you're right on it being a processing issue. As I mentioned in a couple other replies, the meat seems very bloody to me when thawed (they put in those little absorbant pads but it way overflows those), and the ground beef is very mushy. Very hard to form into hamburger patties. I wish I had more experience form other suppliers so I had more to compare it to.

              1. re: ediblover

                More than half the fat in even a conventional, feedlot sirloin steak is poly and mononunsaturated, actually. It's not just Omega 3s that matter; it's the ratio to Omega 6, the higher CLA and lower arachidonic acid. It's also the recduced health risks from superbugs bred by antibiotic usage to overcome the sickness caused by grain feeding.

            2. The original comment has been removed
              1. Hi Ansluasi,

                No, you are not crazy but I will tell you that the best advice is going to come from a grassfed producer. I would tell you that you should not buy from the same rancher again. The finishing as well as mineral deficiencies is what has caused the off flavor. Beef should NEVER taste like fish no matter what has to say. Someone that tells you that is trying to SELL you an inferior product. Always ask a lot of questions of your producer. The only reason to know age is to gauge the level of finish and tenderness, not for flavor. Many producers do not properly finish their animals, that is why you always hear that grassfed beef is lean, it is only lean because if improper finishing or poor genetics. Grassfed cattle should not be lean when slaughtered. If possible, it is a good idea to visit the cattle that you will be buying. This is to insure proper handling and care of the animals and sanitary conditions (you'd be surprised at some operations). You want to ask what supplements have been fed if any and what the rancher is finishing on. What the animal is eating can and will have a huge impact on the flavor profile. Unfortunately, the average consumer is used to going to the store and buying meat whenever they want. Grassfed beef is a seasonal product so you want to buy animals that have been butchered in the late summer or early fall finished on grasses and not cover crops. Unlike what has been mentioned here, very few "grassfed" producers are feeding seeded out grass. To think that this is happening on a large scale shows the lack of knowledge of the protein and fiber content of grasses. At the seed stage the grass has very little nutrition left so few producers are going to wait until their grass seeds out to put their cattle in. This does happen some on stock piled pastures but there are also very few grasses that spread by seed, most spread by rhizomes so this is simply miss information. Do some producers do it, probably so but not very many and there are some excellent grassfed producers in MO. Good grassfed beef will taste "beefier" than its corn fed counterparts which I think is a good thing. I don't understand someone wanting beef that doesn't taste like beef. :) By the way, you cannot tell by looking at meat whether it is grassfed or not, grassfed cattle can have as pure a white fat as corn fed, depends largely on breed and feed prior to slaughter. The best grassfed finishers are going to be British breeds and no, Angus Beef is not just a marketing ploy. Although there are many other breeds that taste as good and maybe better than Angus, the Angus Assoc has done the best job of marketing by building a level of expectation in the consumers mind. If possible, always try a sample of beef before buying a 1/4. Most 1/4's Kaleo are mixed 1/4's with meat from both the front and the back. Whole Foods is not my favorite store, but I happen to know their international meat buyer and he would not knowingly market corn fed beef as grassfed. You can finish in early winter with stored feeds but the quality of beef goes down (not flavor just Omega 3's and such) as the winter draws on and feed gets older. A finished animal should not be showing any rib and have fat on either side of the tail head and along the spine. A fat cover of 3/4" is a minimum on the sides. Hope that helps a little.

                As to the beef you have left, try making some Vietnamese soups with fish sauce and the beef as flavor in the soup. That should mask the flavor some. :-)

                9 Replies
                1. re: GrassfedNetwork

                  Had to laugh at your last line! Haven't tried Vietnamese dishes with it yet, but we have been eating LOTS of curry and spicy tacos, LOL:)
                  I suspect it is, as you said, the processor. I am wondering if they bled it properly, it seems to have a lot of blood in it compared to supermarket beef, and the ground beef looks more like beef that was put through a food processor than beef that went through a grinder (you know, that classic spiral-ish look?) Very mushy in texture when thawed, not dry-ish like supermarket ground beef. I wish I had more experience buying it so that I had some sort of baseline to compare it to. I will definitely get a sample first next time.
                  I did go see the animals before slaughter (they were Angus, BTW) and they looked good, grazing on really nice acreage and in very clean, well cared for shape. They were rotated between fields, so always had nice quality grass to munch on (the owner was a Joel Salatin intern so seemed to know his stuff pretty well).
                  I don't mind the beefier taste, that's what the Whole Foods stuff taste like, and my family really enjoyed it. I don't even mind a bit of a metallic taste due to higher iron, but fish is a definite no (I don't even like real fish, so fish flavored cow is definitely a gross factor for me:)

                  1. re: ansluasi

                    I know of the farm of which you speak. I'm curious, as I can't seem to find it in your postings, did anyone from Joel Salatin's mention whether or not the Angus were grain-finished?

                    As you can read from my previous posting, I mentioned that here in VA (your purchase was made in VA if it is Joe Salatin), will be under law permitted only to process outside of the farm. I understand this farm is allowed to butcher and sell his own chickens - correct me if I'm wrong.

                    1. re: Rella

                      The farmer was an intern with Joel not Joel himself. They are in Ohio I think. But to answer your question, beef and chicken have totally different processing guidelines in all states.

                        1. re: Rella

                          Yes, Joel Salatin is in VA. The farm I bought from is run by a man who interned in VA with Salatin and then came back here to OH to run his family farm after finishing his internship. He uses the concepts he learned in his internship, but is independent of Salatin.
                          The beef I bought was 100% grass fed and finished.

                          1. re: ansluasi

                            That's good to know. I know of a farmer who has interned with Salatin here in the Valley (VA), but I don't know whether he grain-finishes or not.

                            A question for "GrassfedNetwork:"

                            Is it just almost impossible for farmers here in this climate/zone of VA and Ohio to be able to grass feed up to time of slaughter; therefore the reason for grain-finish.

                            I have seen one farmer that I have bought from - but not their beef -- when seeing their teensy calves eat, it is some kind of pellet, which I assume is a grain-pellet.

                            How can a farmer say that his milk is "whatever" free, when he has fed the calves pellets. I would think that the milk would not be qualified for anything other than perhaps pesticide free or perhaps some other "... free."

                            I really don't like to see calves fed grain pellets. I wonder how many beef farms do before they actually go to pasture.

                            1. re: Rella

                              Good Question Rella,

                              Climate and Zone are not the issue, desire and genetics are the issue. Every zone and climate save those that don't ever green up and have a growing season, has the potential for finishing cattle. The problem is that it generally takes longer to finish an animal on grass, meaning that the animal will be 24 to 30 months old and you can slaughter a grain feed animal at 16 - 18 months old. The almighty dollar is the problem. The reason that grassfed beef costs so much more generally, is because of the longer growing period so the rancher has to charge more to cover all the cost involved in keeping the animal longer. Part of what we are trying to teach is how to reduce those costs so that the price can come down while profits go up.

                              Milk, I have owned and run both a goat and cow dairy. What you feed your calves has nothing to do with the milk you produce or sell. The reason that the calves are feed pellets which could be just alfalfa or it could be distillers grain, is because the rancher needs to sell all the milk to make a profit so they wean calves at 8 - 9 weeks to keep as much milk as possible. I prefer to wean when the calves are ready to graze on their own and keep them on milk until then but that still has no bearing on the milk that you buy from the dairy. Most beef producers wean later because weaning means more work. Conventional producers (read that grain fed producers) will wean and then feed a pellet usually and it is usually a mixture of alfalfa and distillers grains depending on what part of the country they are in. Some parts of the country mix in wheat chaf and others will use beet pulp waste. They typically use whatever waste product the area produces, if that doesn't say enough right there. Yuk!!! Let me know if that doesn't fully answer your questions. :-)

                              1. re: GrassfedNetwork

                                You say,
                                "What you feed your calves has nothing to do with the milk you produce or sell..."

                                I can't wrap my head around that. Do not calves grow up to produce milk out of these bodies that have been fed certain grains that I might have an objection to?

                                1. re: Rella

                                  If you are referring to a grass based dairy then there should be no grains fed at any time, even to calves. You are presuming that the calves grow up to be milk producers for the dairy. When we had a dairy, most of the calves were sold and did not stay in the herd. I didn't choose to feed them any differently than my herd but if I had, it would have had not bearing on the milk I produced.

                2. Thanks everybody for responding. I am suspecting it might be a processing issue, so let me ask this, how long should it take to process a cow, from slaughter to hanging to cutting to freezing? We bought ours pre-frozen in vacuum sealed bags, and it was ready 1 1/2 weeks after slaughter. How long should it age, and shouldn't it be dry-ish? Ours has copious amounts of blood when thawed, far outsoaking the little absorbant pads they froze it with.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: ansluasi


                    I wish your story were a little funnier but for what you spent on meat (better than the store but still), it isn't very funny. I have been in the grassfed beef business for 13+ years and have never experienced your issue. I hate to tell you this but if that meat was in my freezer it would be expensive dog food! Mushy ground beef is definitely a processor problem as is excess blood. I prefer my beef dry aged a minimum of 14 days. So, let's break that down. You kill and process animal for hanging day 1, two weeks later they pull the meat from the hanging locker and cut into your cut sheet then they put it in the freezer for at least 24 hours. So at the very best, it should be 15 days (usually not this fast) before your meat is ready and many times I age for 21 days. It sounds like your meat was not bleed out, was not aged properly and given the off taste and mush, not frozen properly. Has it caused any "off" feelings in stomachs? I would not be comfortable with that meat at all and like your husband, I can eat almost anything (you know, 8-9 days in the fridge but no off smell or things growing, I'll eat it) but your meat crosses the line I am REALLY sorry to say. My wife wouldn't even want to feed it to my dog, but I would. Have you told the rancher about this problem and has he offered a solution? Give him a chance to fix it. Who knows, the processor may have given you another animal. See what the Rancher says and if he is using the same processor and let me know. I am happy to consult. :-) Fishy beef is definitely a problem!! I don't want to eat fish that smells like fish either but I do like fish ... fresh fish and fresh beef!

                    Oh, pretty pastures with no weeds is not always a good thing. Ask what he does to his pastures, if he treats or uses any chemicals; he could have used fish emulsion right before slaughter. Also ask about chemicals and drug use in the animals. Don't let anyone tell you that drugs are necessary. 24 month is about the youngest an animal can be harvested properly unless they have really improved their genetics and forages. Being a good marketer does not mean you are following the most appropriate husbandry practices. Read more about grassfed on eatwild dot com.

                    1. re: GrassfedNetwork

                      Yep, I am inclined to agree with you. For what it cost, we had to struggle through most of it (on a very tight budget as a SAHM) but I think that what remains might become cat food. If they'll eat it (but then our cats like fish, so perhaps it is a perfect match). We never have gotten sick from it, or I would never have kept cooking it, but it sure hasn't been enjoyable.

                      As far as the farm end, I am really pretty certain that there was nothing untoward going on. The farmer is a young guy, very committed, very hardworking, and trained under Joel Salatin. Definitely no chemicals, antibiotics or drugs involved (not sure about fish emulsion though). He seemed to be doing everything right, based on what I had read about raising grassfed cattle, such a shame that his hard work ended up being wrecked at the processors.

                      1. re: ansluasi

                        Mr. Salatin is a great chicken raiser and marketer, in the grassfed beef community he does not have the same reputation. Outside of the grassfed beef community is simply what he markets and as the consumer you buy. I would not be so quick to lay all the blame on the processor. Is your meat really lean; roasts, steaks? Again, as I mentioned earlier, when a producer is trying to convert cattle to cash, they often cut corners and that usually is in underdeveloped beves going to slaughter which causes lean usually tough meat.

                        1. re: GrassfedNetwork

                          The meat isn't too lean. Leaner than cheap fatty supermarket beef, but it has a nice bit of marble and the roasts cooked up to be really tender. The steaks had a good mouthfeel too (even the not so good typically cheaper cuts), not chewy, just a good texture that lets you know you're eating beef. If it wasn't for the nasty taste (and mushy hamburger), I would be really happy with it.
                          I have found another couple of grass fed sources in our area and am going to see if I can buy small amounts from them to test it out. One of them uses the same processor that we got the 1/4 from, so it will be a chance to see it is any different.

                          1. re: ansluasi

                            Go tour the processor! I am questioning if the meat you got is from your rancher. Ask the processor how he manages his inventory to insure proper delivery.

                      2. re: GrassfedNetwork

                        I believe from reading the later posts that this farm (Joel Salatin) has one of the best reputations - see Omnivore's Dilema (sp?) written about this farm, a best seller.

                        1. re: Rella

                          Not sure where the confusion entered in here, but I did not buy beef from Joel Salatin and do not live near him. I live in OH and bought from an OH farm. The owner of the farm that I purchased my beef from trained under Salatin as an intern. The reputation of Salatin's farm has nothing to do with my issue here, since he was not responsible in any way for the product that I bought. I only mentioned Salatin to explain the background/training of the farmer I purchased from. Other than that, Salatin is really irrelevant to the issue with this beef.

                          1. re: ansluasi

                            Thanks so much. I quite understand.

                      3. re: ansluasi

                        Hey ansluasi, have you considered asking the people you purchased from? If they care to keep your business they might be willing to comp you something.

                        1. re: joonjoon

                          I haven't, guess I am being chicken about it. After the way that this stuff was so awful, I wouldn't buy for them again anyway, so a future discount or whatever wouldn't be of interest. Plus, at first I thought it was just us not being used to it and that we might develop a palate for it, and now it seems like just too much time has gone by since we bought it. We ate enough of it to get our moneys worth so I am chalking it up as a learning experience. I understand that there are a lot more factors that i need to consider now before I commit to another purchase of this scale.

                          1. re: ansluasi

                            We raise our own animals for meat and we also sell some that have been processed locally. We want to know what our customers think of the meat we sell and if someone is unhappy with the product it is important to us to fix the problem. I think that if your farmer truly cares about his product he would not only want to know, but he deserves to know what happened in your situation. If he doesn't know that his processor might be slaughtering incorrectly, not aging properly etc., he won't be able to change for future customers.

                            1. re: earthygoat

                              I completely agree Earthygoat. A manager of any business can only fix what he knows exists so a conscience consumer will let the manager know. The managers reaction will often determine whether you want to return to do business with this business. Even if you don't want to rebuy from him Ansluasi, he deserves to know why so he can try to correct it in the future.