Does Grass-Fed Beef Smell Different?

You are what you eat, and so are cows. So, yes, grass-fed beef may not smell similar to grain-fed beef.

Many cows have a grain-based diet as opposed to conventional grass-based diets.

Beef gotten from such cows smells different from grass-fed beef. The two beef variants even taste slightly different from each other.

Most beef eaters may not notice this difference in smell, but it does exist.

For the minority who can distinguish between both types of beef, they might notice that grass-fed beef may smell fatty while grain-fed beef may smell somewhat fleshy/meaty.

Let’s explore what exactly causes this difference in smell.

Does grass-fed beef smell different?

Yes, grass-fed beef smells different from grain-fed beef.

Grass-fed beef usually smells meaty, while grain-fed beef has a fatty smell.

This is because a high grain diet increases the cow’s fatty tissues and gives it a fatty smell, but with a grass-based diet, the cows have less fat and more flesh, hence, a meatier smell, which some may interpret as gamey.

What is grass-fed beef?

Grass-fed beef includes beef gotten from cows that were only raised on grass.

Grass-fed beef is usually less fatty than regular beef because grass-fed beef usually has leaner muscles than traditional beef.

Grass-fed beef is sometimes referred to as organic beef.

Grass-fed beef has a meatier or gamey flavor as well as smell. Even though its qualities may be off-putting to many, grass-fed beef makes a very vital part of an organic diet.

How to make grass-fed beef taste better

It is no news that grass-fed beef tastes gamey to some; well, we have a way out.

You can improve the flavor of grass-fed steak by using wine, Italian dressing, spirits, or alcohol to marinate it for about four to six hours.

Hamburgers or meatloaf with grass-fed beef will pair well with shredded vegetables like zucchini, olives, tomatoes, etc.

Spices and ingredients like garlic, black pepper, onions, cumin, cayenne, salt, and grated cheese make grass-fed beef taste better.

Alternatively, you can marinate the grass-fed beef in buttermilk overnight. Then, place the meat in a glass bowl with buttermilk till it tops the milk. Cover the bowl with a lid. The meat should taste less gamey when you cook it.

Health Benefits of grass-fed beef

Organic grass-fed beef is free of antibiotics and hormones

Cows are what they take in, and so are you. When cows are given antibiotics to prevent diseases or growth hormones, these substances can go into the body of whoever eats the beef.

With organic grass-fed beef, consumers are free from ingesting hormones and antibiotics that may be harmful to them.

Grass-fed beef is high in healthy fats

Meat from grass-fed cows has way more omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than grain-fed beef.

Decreased calories and fats

Grass-fed beef has less fat and calories than grain-fed beef, making it an excellent option for a weight loss diet.

Grass-fed beef has a rich nutrient profile

Grass-fed beef is densely packed with vitamins and minerals like vitamins B, D, E, and iron.

Reduces the risk of heart disease

Omega-3 fatty acids present in grass-fed beef are suitable for the heart.

People whose diets are high in omega-3 fatty acids are less prone to heart problems.

Grass-fed beef helps prevent cancer

Grass-fed beef contains more Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) than grain-fed beef. CLA is known as an excellent tool in warding off cancer.

What is pasture-raised beef?

Pasture-raised beef comes from cows that get most of their nutrition from managed pastures. The essential factor in pasture-raised beef is the practice of grazing. As a result, pasture-raised meat is often confused with grass-fed meat, although they are not the same.

Grass-fed beef is raised on a grass diet only, while pasture-raised beef gets most of its nutrition from grass and may often be fed grains from time to time.

What Determines the Smell of Beef?

The smell of beef is a complex and multi-faceted characteristic that is influenced by several factors, including the composition of the meat, the age of the animal, and the processing and handling of the meat. Here are some key factors that determine the smell of beef:

  1. Composition of meat: The smell of beef is influenced by its composition, including its fat content, protein content, and the types of amino acids and fatty acids present. These components can react with each other and with oxygen to produce different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to the aroma of the meat.
  2. Age of the animal: The age of the animal can also affect the smell of beef. Younger animals tend to have a milder, sweeter aroma, while older animals can have a stronger, more gamey smell. This is because as animals age, their muscle fibers become denser and develop more connective tissue, which can affect the flavor and aroma of the meat.
  3. Processing and handling: The way that beef is processed and handled can also have an impact on its smell. For example, beef that is aged for a longer period of time can develop a more complex and intense aroma, while beef that is not properly stored or handled can develop off-flavors and odors due to bacterial growth.

In addition to these factors, other variables such as the breed of the animal, its diet, and even the environment in which it was raised can also affect the smell of beef. Understanding these factors can be important for chefs, meat processors, and consumers alike, as they can help determine the quality and desirability of the meat.

Grass-Fed Beef and its Smell

Grass-fed beef has gained popularity in recent years due to its perceived health benefits and ethical considerations. One of the characteristics that sets grass-fed beef apart from grain-fed beef is its distinct aroma. Here are some key points about the smell of grass-fed beef:

  1. Scientific studies on the aroma of grass-fed beef: Several studies have been conducted to investigate the aroma of grass-fed beef and how it differs from grain-fed beef. One study found that grass-fed beef had a more intense aroma than grain-fed beef, with notes of grass, hay, and clover. Another study found that grass-fed beef had a more complex aroma profile than grain-fed beef, with more fruity, floral, and herbaceous notes.
  2. Opinions from chefs and consumers: Chefs and consumers also have their own opinions about the smell of grass-fed beef. Some chefs and food experts appreciate the unique aroma of grass-fed beef, describing it as earthy, nutty, and herbaceous. Consumers who prefer grass-fed beef often cite its distinct aroma as one of the reasons they choose it over grain-fed beef.
  3. How cooking methods affect the smell: The smell of grass-fed beef can also be influenced by how it is cooked. Some cooking methods, such as grilling or smoking, can enhance the earthy, smoky aroma of grass-fed beef, while others, such as boiling or steaming, can make it milder and less pronounced.

Overall, the aroma of grass-fed beef is one of its defining characteristics and can contribute to its perceived quality and desirability. While opinions about the smell of grass-fed beef may vary, it is clear that this type of beef has a unique and complex aroma that sets it apart from grain-fed beef.

Factors Affecting the Smell of Grass-Fed Beef

The aroma of grass-fed beef is influenced by several factors, including the diet of the animal, the type of grass consumed, and the time of year the animal was harvested. Here are some key factors that can affect the smell of grass-fed beef:

  1. Diet of the animal: The diet of the animal plays a significant role in the aroma of grass-fed beef. Cattle that are raised on a diet of fresh, green pasture grasses tend to have a more herbaceous and grassy aroma, while those that are fed hay or silage may have a milder, less pronounced aroma. The presence of certain compounds in the grass, such as terpenes and carotenoids, can also contribute to the aroma of the meat.
  2. Type of grass consumed: The type of grass consumed by the animal can also affect the aroma of the beef. Different types of grasses have different chemical compositions, which can produce different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to the aroma of the meat. For example, cattle that graze on clover may have a more floral and sweet aroma, while those that graze on fescue may have a more earthy and nutty aroma.
  3. Time of year the animal was harvested: The time of year that the animal was harvested can also influence the aroma of the beef. Cattle that are harvested in the summer or fall, when the grass is at its most lush and green, tend to have a stronger and more pronounced aroma than those harvested in the winter or spring, when the grass is less abundant and may be more fibrous.

Understanding these factors can be important for producers, processors, and consumers, as they can help determine the quality and desirability of the grass-fed beef. By choosing high-quality grasses and carefully managing the animal’s diet and environment, producers can help ensure that their grass-fed beef has a desirable aroma that appeals to consumers.

Cooking Methods and the Smell of Grass-Fed Beef

The smell of grass-fed beef can be influenced by the cooking method used. Some cooking methods can enhance the earthy, herbaceous aroma of grass-fed beef, while others can make it milder and less pronounced. Here are some key points about how cooking methods affect the smell of grass-fed beef:

  1. Grilling: Grilling is one of the best cooking methods for enhancing the aroma of grass-fed beef. The high heat of the grill can create a smoky, charred crust on the meat that enhances its earthy and herbaceous aroma. Grilled grass-fed beef is often described as having a rich, complex aroma that is hard to replicate with other cooking methods.
  2. Roasting: Roasting is another cooking method that can bring out the aroma of grass-fed beef. When grass-fed beef is roasted, it develops a crispy, browned exterior that enhances its natural flavor and aroma. Roasting can also help to lock in the moisture of the meat, resulting in a tender, juicy texture.
  3. Smoking: Smoking is another cooking method that can enhance the aroma of grass-fed beef. When beef is smoked, it absorbs the flavors and aromas of the wood chips or other smoking materials used, which can add a rich, smoky aroma to the meat. Smoked grass-fed beef is often described as having a unique, complex aroma that is hard to replicate with other cooking methods.
  4. Boiling or Steaming: Boiling or steaming grass-fed beef can make the aroma of the meat milder and less pronounced. These cooking methods can cause some of the natural flavors and aromas of the meat to be lost, resulting in a blander, less complex flavor. While boiling or steaming can be an effective way to cook lean cuts of grass-fed beef, it may not be the best method for enhancing its aroma.

Grass-fed beef vs Grain-fed beef: Similarities, differences, and which is better


  • Grass-fed beef and grain-fed beef start with a grass-based diet at the beginning of their lives.
  • Both types of beef contain vitamins B3, B6, and B12.


  • Grass-fed beef has less fat content than grain-fed beef. This also means lesser calories in grass-fed beef than in grain-fed beef.
  • Grass-fed beef has more nutritional content than grain-fed beef. In addition to vitamins B3, B6, and B12 that grass-fed meat has, it can also boast of vitamins A and E and antioxidants.
  • Grass-fed beef is more expensive than grain-fed beef.
  • Grass-fed beef is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA).
  • Nutritional content: Grass-fed beef has been shown to be higher in several key nutrients than grain-fed beef. For example, grass-fed beef is higher in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may help reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases. Grass-fed beef also contains higher levels of antioxidants, vitamins A and E, and minerals such as zinc and iron.
  • Taste and texture: Grass-fed beef has a distinct taste and texture that sets it apart from grain-fed beef. Grass-fed beef is often described as having a stronger, earthier flavor, with a leaner texture and less marbling than grain-fed beef. Some people prefer the taste of grass-fed beef because of its unique flavor, while others prefer the milder taste and tenderness of grain-fed beef.
  • Environmental impact: Grass-fed beef is generally considered to be more environmentally friendly than grain-fed beef. Grass-fed cattle are raised on natural pastures, which require fewer resources than the corn and soybean crops used to feed grain-fed cattle. Grass-fed beef also has a smaller carbon footprint than grain-fed beef, as grasslands store more carbon than croplands.
  • Animal welfare: Grass-fed cattle are generally considered to have a better quality of life than grain-fed cattle, as they are allowed to roam freely and graze on natural pasture grasses. Grain-fed cattle, on the other hand, are often raised in crowded feedlots and fed a diet that is not natural for them. Some people believe that grass-fed beef is a more ethical choice because of the better treatment of the animals.

Which is better?

Both are good in their own right. However, grass-fed beef is better if you are on a healthy diet.

Does Kobe beef smell different?

Kobe beef smells different from regular beef.

Kobe beef gives off a sweet aroma, somewhat peachy and coconut-like, while regular beef smells fatty. 

Also known as Wagyu beef, Kobe beef gets its sweet coconut and peachy aroma from:

  • A specially-selected grain diet.
  • Being kept alive for long (about 30 months).
  • Its unique genetic predisposition gives a distinctive fat composition.

Does ground beef have a smell?

At every stage of its freshness, ground beef has a unique smell.

Fresh ground beef has a barely noticeable mild iron and fleshy smell. Old ground beef may smell stale, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it has spoiled. Spoiled ground beef has a somewhat off-putting smell; it can be slightly sour or foul.

What do bad ground beef smell and taste like?

Bad ground beef will have a foul or rotten odor. The foul smell of bad ground beef is quite bold and impossible to miss. Taking a whiff of the meat is a quick way to know if it has done bad.

Ground beef that has gone bad will taste sour or bitter instead of the juicy and flavorful taste of good ground beef.

Read also: Ground Beef Four Days After The Sell-By Date? [Things To Expect]

What makes beef organic?

For beef to be regarded as organic, it needs to adhere to the following USDA standards:

  • The cows should have been reared in conditions that acclimate their normal behaviors, like grazing on pasture.
  • The cows must be raised on an organic diet.
  • The cows shouldn’t be given any hormones or antibiotics.

What is natural beef flavor?

The natural beef flavor is an ingredient that can come from the beef cooking process or be made to mimic the taste of beef or meat.

McDonald’s natural beef flavor is often unsuitable for a vegan/vegetarian diet because its constituent ingredient includes milk.

However, the natural beef flavor can also be vegan if made with vegan-friendly ingredients that carry flavors that closely mimic that of beef.

Best grass-fed beef brands

We know it can be hard to find quality antibiotics/hormone-free grass-fed and humanely-raised meat, so we outlined some trusted brands you can purchase from.

  • Farm foods market
  • ButcherBox
  • Good chop
  • Crowd cow
  • Thrive Market
  • U.S wellness meats
  • Porter road
  • Silver Fern Farms
  • White oak pastures
  • Fossil Farms

How to tell when steak has gone bad

Check the Use-by date

The use-by date tells you when your steak will expire. If your steak has passed the use-by date, you shouldn’t use it. You can often find the use-by date on the packaging.

Smell the steak

When the steak has gone bad, it’ll take on a rotten or pungent smell. This is usually the first indication that steak has started to spoil.

Inspect the texture of the steak

If the steak has a slimy feel or film on the surface, it has begun to go bad. It would help if you didn’t eat it because it can breed illness-causing bacteria.

Eyeball the steak carefully

Look at the steak carefully and look out for mold or signs of discoloration. If you notice any of these, your steak is no longer suitable to eat.

Has the steak been in the fridge for longer than three days?

If you stored your steak in the fridge for more than three days, there is a likelihood that it has begun to undergo spoilage. However, it would help check the steak for other signs of spoilage.

Read also: Why Is Skirt Steak So Expensive?

How many calories are in grass-fed ground beef?

One hundred grams of raw grass-fed ground beef would contain about 198 calories.

How long does it take to raise a cow for meat?

It should take about two years and six months for grass-fed beef to be ready for consumption and about a year and four months for grain-fed meat to be ready for consumption.

Is grass-fed beef better for the environment?

There is no scientific backing that grass-fed beef is better for the environment; that notion is merely a widespread opinion.

By Luong Tan

Luong Tan, the creative and passionate founder of Bourbono, is a multi-talented individual with a deep love for the culinary arts. An accomplished food blogger, cookbook author, and former Ambassador of US cuisine in Vietnam (2015-2016), Luong has been on a mission to share his appreciation for food with the world.

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