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is beef becoming tasteless?

  • j

go look at old pot roast or brisket recipes, say from the 50's and 60's.
now look at newer ones.

the older ones probably have: beef, salt + pepper, onions and some water.
the new ones: beef + 30 other things.

Why is this? People developing little kiddie tastes (everything must be sweet)? The proliferation of the crockpot creating washed out tasting meat that needs the extra things to cover for ruining the beef? Or cheapskate ranchers feeding cows junk and selling tasteless meat?

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  1. Maybe it's just magazine and publishing companies trying to sell more recipes........

    4 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      This was my first thought too... basically there's only so many ways to make pot roast, so in order to sell more books/magazines or get readers on a website, they have to do something to the recipe to make it seem new.

      1. re: juliejulez

        Julie, you and 4under have it nailed. ~~ We've become a society of bastardized recipe and artsy fartsy fad addicts.

    2. 50 years ago, my mother made her fabulous pot roast with red wine, stewed tomatoes, onions, etc. I've never had a pot roast in my life as depressing as what you describe. :-)

      I make mine with red wine, stock, tomatoes and fresh herbs and veggies. Savory, not sweet. I use only grass fed and finished meat at home, so no lack of flavor.

      1 Reply
      1. We've developed a taste for wine and garlic.

        1. I can't speak for the world but when I think of what was available to me, spice and seasoning wise, combined with an environment lacking any kind of real ethnic diversity my tastes have dramatically changed. While there are many simple pleasures I still love (a plain grilled burger, a really good steak) my tastes for chili, stews, pot roasts run more "exotic" for lack of a better word.

          My mom was a creative cook and used lots of what was considered "weird" to much of our area. She made lots of Indian food, experimented with Carribean influenced meals, played around with a number Asian cuisines. My dad was a chef and he loved Asian foods, especially szchuan. My friends used to freak seeing a duck or two hanging when my dad just had to have Peking duck.

          But all these spices, foods etc were bought from markets 3-4 hours away and were expensive so those meals were special occassion. Our basic everyday meals were meat and potato types. That's what my friends ate too.

          My town had no fast food, no Chinese or even Mexican restaurants. The places we did have were mostly seafood, basic American or red sauce Italian. There was no "ethnic" aisles in the 2 grocery stores we had.

          As I grew up and moved away I became exposed to more and more flavors. And while I loved my moms NE boiled dinners I absolutely add more than she did. Hers was water, corn beef, carrots and potatoes, cabbage and maybe some peppercorn. Mine has dark beer, corn beef, potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, quarter onions and I either make my own spice bunch or buy a corn beef that has one. I serve with 2-3 different highly flavored mustards.

          I have to think if you are looking at cookbooks from 50-60 years ago you have to take into consideration what was available to your "average" home cook and the taste levels of that "average family". It's one of the reason that cookbooks like the JOC continued to change/update through out the years.

          ***all written from an American perspective, assuming you were talking about American cook books.

          1 Reply
          1. re: foodieX2

            I was going to respond with similar sentiments, but you said it much more eloquently than I would have!

          2. It is probably a combination of things, beginning first and foremost on the farm. I'm no expert by ANY stretch, but if beef is like, say, flowers like sweetpeas and apples, many growers gravitate to hybrids, not the old-fashioned varieties. I suspect the same might be true with beef: they use breeds that produce the maximum amount of beef quickly and cheaply. Steriods, antibiotics, feed, and "happiness" of the cattle come into play as well - not to mention aging (dry vs. wet vs. little aging at all). Most supermarkets don't hang their meat for very long at all.

            We are extremely fortunate to live in an area that raises old English breeds, free to roam and eat meadow grass, fresh hay and lots of treats from the villagers (apples, carrots, and the such). They aren't taken miles away before slaughter (no stress) and hung for a minimum of 6-8 weeks.

            I also suspect the fresh produce used to prepare dishes our mums and dads used things that were in seaon and local. Try a home-grown late summer tomato vs store-bought in the middle of winter and you'll see what I mean; it makes a huge difference.

            Finally, recipes with a zillion ingredients might be to suit the modern notion that more is better; the cook is putting more effort into the dish to make it more "special", etc. It helps sell cookbooks.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Journey

              Journey, you are also fortunate to live where supermarkets even GET carcasses to hang, or even sides. Only a few, more high-end markets in most parts of the US do any real butchering at all, but receive all their meat as either cryovac'd primal cuts or in some cases prepackaged ready-to-cook steaks, chops or other cuts. Some of these may be tasty enough to satisfy the home cook who gets some meat when his vegetarian wife is elsewhere (ahem!), but finding properly aged meat of good quality takes extra legwork and money.

            2. Tastes have changed. The food we eat is influenced by immigration to our countries and our travel to other countries.

              But to respond to the question posed in the title of the OP, it may depend on where you are in the world. Certainly where I am, if we go back 50 years, most folk would be buying their meat from the local butcher. The cattle would have been raised in tradtitional ways, not slaughtered too young and hung for a decent period of time to allow the flavour to develop. Nowadays, many of us in the First World buy our meat from supermarkets. They have their own strategy which, generally speaking, means animals are not hung for a long period - means they can sell a weightier piece of meat as it won't have dried out in the maturing process.

              I buy my beef direct from the farm, via the internet. The cattle are raised organically and the carcass is hung for 21 days. I will happily cook a pot roast of it with nothing more than onions, seasoning and stock.

              1. I think that everyone has been right here, starting with Harters' lamenting the increased industrialization of our meat supply and proceeding through how the animals themselves have been further commodified - artificially bulked up, dosed with antibiotics, slaughtered young - and then on to our increased interest in novel flavors. But I strongly suspect that the greatest loss of flavor is the process that ends with the slab of meat wrapped in plastic in the supermarket. Although I know for a fact that I can blame much of the loss of perceived flavor on my own failing sensors, I taste a sufficient number of superior pieces of meat now and then to know that when a burger tastes mostly of the condiments and garnishes it's not just me.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Will Owen

                  I get whole sub primals, sometimes wet aged 28 days in the bag & sometimes 28 days dry aged hanging on the bone. IMHO, the dry aged is better but if the wet aged is top choice or better it is also very, very good.

                  My problem is the leaning out of the meat supply. Thats where I think most of the flavor was lost. Then to make matters worse, they inject it with solution which further waters down the flavor.

                  1. re: Tom34

                    Some of the best beef here in SoCal comes from Harris Ranch; although I have major issues with their resistance to any suggestion that there's anything evil about factory farming or treating animals as a simple commodity, they do keep the beef as natural as it can be under the circumstances. Several somewhat upscale markets in the L.A. area carry their meat, which I will occasionally buy while repeating to myself,"They aren't as bad as the other guys." One thing about these markets is that they employ actual butchers who know what they're doing and will happily do it. And then of course there are the "boutique" butcher shops, the newer of which source their animals from smaller farms exclusively.

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      I am on the East Coast but have heard very good things about Harris Ranch. They have been very critical (Good Reads) of the leaning / grade changing that took place during the 70's.

                      A friend in a cutters union at a major supermarket told me they often portion out sub primals w/in 10 days of box date. Thats just to soon.

                      "Actual butchers" .....Very, very hard work. Kind of went the way of Italian & German stone cutters.

                      25% more per lb for a great piece of meat is worth every penny when you consider the work & $$ that goes into prepping the whole meal. Preaching to the quire on Chow Hound as most folks on this site know the importance of quality products.

                2. Mostly economics. Its more profitable to raise big lean animals and then inject the meat with solution to make up for the lack of inter muscular marbling. The end result is flavorless meat products that require more ingredients to give the dish flavor.

                  1. "go look at old pot roast or brisket recipes, say from the 50's and 60's.
                    now look at newer ones.

                    the older ones probably have: beef, salt + pepper, onions and some water.
                    the new ones: beef + 30 other things."

                    I don't agree with this at all. I don't have them here in front me right now, but I can go through cookbooks I have from the 50s and 60s and find beef recipes with more than just "beef, salt + pepper, onions and some water." Maybe not "30 other things" but then none of the contemporary cookbooks I own have any beef recipes like that either.

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: ttoommyy

                      And here is evidence to what I posted above.
                      From Good Housekeeping’s Meat Cook Book 1958.

                      Edited: I just realized it is basically unreadable. Go to this site, click on any of the recipe pages and see what I mean:


                      1. re: ttoommyy

                        Interesting! A lot more non vegetable or herb flavorings than I use now!

                        1. re: ttoommyy

                          awesome. I especially love the restraint in "pinch of celery seeds".

                          Now I'm going to have to dig through my mom's old cookbooks (circa 1968) to look at pot roasts.

                        2. re: ttoommyy

                          I have my mother's Good Housekeeping cookbook from 1952. Its instructions for pot roasting are to brown the meat, put it into the pot with water, salt & pepper and simmer it. Any vegetables or potatoes that are to accompany the meat are to go in for the last 30 minutes fo cooking.

                          1. re: Harters

                            Sounds like "Good Housekeeping" might've been an oxymoron.

                            1. re: Harters

                              No onion. Spartan indeed.

                              I'm cooking a deckle this way tonight. I always liked my mom's cooked like this (had cloves of garlic poked into the meat rather than onions) and it was probably a bottom round -- the worst cut of beef.

                              If I posted a steak recipe with all sorts of nonsense dumped on it, there would be an uproar about ruining the taste of the meat. Yet a pot roast is sad and nasty with salt and pepper?

                              I think I've answered my own question. It is completely psychosomatic. Unless of course my dinner is revolting. . . then I'll have to rerun the recipe without the crockpot.

                              1. re: j8715

                                "If I posted a steak recipe with all sorts of nonsense dumped on it, there would be an uproar about ruining the taste of the meat. Yet a pot roast is sad and nasty with salt and pepper?"

                                I don't think the first part is true, since some steaks are frequently marinated, served with truffle butter, etc. The most tender and flavorful steaks are typically best prepared with little done to them, true.

                                But pot roast isn't analogous, it's a cut that requires a long braise (or smoking) to become tender, and it loses so much weight by losing its juices in the process, that other flavors are required for it to be its best.

                                Marbled ribeye, not so much. Filet is often served with sauces because its leanness means not much flavor.

                                1. re: mcf

                                  I disagree. A good chuck roast, slow-braised for hours, has fantastic flavor enhanced only by salt and pepper.

                                  Not to say that other ingredients would detract or distract.. not at all. But I don't think a good cut of meat NEEDS lots of flavoring ingredients in order to shine.

                                  Which goes to the original question; I do think that modern meats (beef in particular) suffer from blandness. I might agree that industrial-produced meats, versus meats produced 50-60 years ago, highly benefit from other flavors in order to be at their best.

                                  1. re: lagne

                                    Deckle from the super market, s&p, onion + water was indeed delicious. I was a bit heavy handed with the onion, but still it had a strong beefy taste.

                                    I'm pretty much set with mass hysteria as my answer.

                                    1. re: lagne

                                      We don't all have to agree, I'm okay with that. :-)

                                      I don't use anything but grass fed and finished beef at home, or that and many other reasons.

                                2. re: Harters

                                  I guess a lot changed in 6 years then!

                              2. I think the industrialization of food production is partly to blame, but I also think palates have gotten more sophisticated as more exotic ingredients have become easily available and affordable, too. Plain old salt and pepper doesn't really lend much flavor to anything, whether it's veggies or meat.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Heatherb

                                  Wow, I use plain old salt and pepper on a lot of good, fresh meats and veggies, often alone.

                                  1. re: mcf

                                    I like my Italian herb blends, chili powder, herbs d provence, thyme. A variety of vinegars. Different kinds of oil (walnut, sesame, olive, etc.). Dijon mustard. Citrus. Soy sauce.

                                    Salt and pepper is fine for a steak, but I think most other things are enhanced by judicious use of other ingredients. My opinion, that's all.

                                    That said, I think there are few things tastier than a good grassfed steak.

                                    1. re: Heatherb

                                      I use all of those two. That doesn't change the fact that good old salt and pepper do a great deal to enhance the flavors of simply prepared veggies or meats, too. The fresher and better the food, the more a simple prep and seasoning allows it to shine.

                                      Which is not to say that other flavor profiles aren't fun, too!

                                  2. re: Heatherb

                                    When I was in culinary school and we worked with meats, one of my wisest teachers always told us: "You can slather it with all kinds of stuff when you cook at home. in this kitchen: you will learn to make it taste good using just salt and pepper. Until you can do that, you aren't treating the meat correctly."

                                    (not to argue that anyone isn't treating their meat correctly.. *insert immature chuckle here*)

                                  3. No doubt beef is becoming more tasteless mainly due to increased use of chemicals and dumbed down feed. Just do a taste test between any store bought beef, even angus, and grass fed beef from a small farm. No comparison.

                                    1. I would guess that the beef has changed - raising techniques, age, diet, breed. And keep in mind that in modern industrial food practices, uniformity is important - if you buy a piece of stewing beef, it should taste the same, regardless of location or date. That tends to wash out variations.

                                      A second thing - my Dad grew up on a small farm in the 40s and 50s. The beef, I image, would have been lovely. But fresh garlic was considered an exotic ingredient. I'd estimate that at least half of the ingredients in one of those modern recipes wouldn't have been available. Seasoning and preparations in general tended to be pretty plain.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                        How often did they slaughter cattle on that small farm?

                                        In the days before freezers, I wonder whether fresh beef appeared very often on farm tables.

                                      2. I wonder how much of it, too, is related to the fact that many (most?) people just don't know how to cook.

                                        I give lessons in basic cooking techniques to young parents at a community center where I live. They are consistently amazed at how their food preferences shift when they learn to treat even previously-reviled foods simply and properly. "So THAT'S what lentils should taste like!" "My mother's broccoli was always mush!" "I've never eaten chicken breast that I actually like before!"

                                        The only seasonings I allow in the first month of classes: salt and pepper. Occasionally garlic.

                                        Most of my students have long been suckers for the "30+ ingredient" recipes because they felt it made them better cooks; meanwhile, all those herbs, spices, and ingredients were covering up the fact that an unseared roast doesn't lend much flavor to the final stock, or improperly-prepared roux will funk up your texture, and the like. "But we dump 9323593593 spices in, so this burger patty must taste better." No... get some good beef (the best you can afford) and learn to properly sear it to bring out its OWN flavor.

                                        "30+ ingredient" recipes only go so far in covering up a lack of technique.

                                        1. The fun about being an old fahrt such as myself is that you hopefully have a larger variety of experiences to draw on. I grew up on grass fed, corn finished usually prime beef. Lots of marbling. Moved to Pennsylvania and hated the tough, tasteless, and what we assumed were mountain climbing former dairy cows.

                                          While living in Europe, the worst was from Ireland, closely followed by France and Italy. Exceptions were from the Camargue or Florence, but you had to go there to get it.

                                          The best was consistently imported from Tito's Yugoslavia.

                                          Today's beef is made from types best suited to industrial raising and processing. Which suits 98% of the consumers in the US today. In this part of Florida, my butcher has grass fed, usually grain finished local beef. Raised on the flood plains of the St. Johns river and full of drugs and genes from bug resistant breeds. Normal price for choice looking porterhouse is $5.99.

                                          And you have never had high priced tasteless beef unless you lived in the early Seventies and had pink baby beef.

                                          And here is my Grandmother's pot roast recipe from the Forties.

                                          Place 2 inch thick bone and gristle in chuckroast on doubled tin foil.

                                          Sprinkle one packet of Lipton's onion soup on meat.

                                          Add 1 cup of water.

                                          Seal so steam and water do not escape.

                                          Cook for 3 to 4 hours in 300 degree oven.

                                          Serve with boiled potatoes and green beans along with unthickened juices.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                            According to USDA data, beef consumption peaked around 1970 at 80 lb per capita. The low was in the 1930s at 35. Now we are around 60.

                                            1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                              Hey, that was my MIL's recipe, too!