Grass Feeding Systems & Ruminant Meat Color and Flavor

Background and methodology
Many factors including the breed, age, sex of the animal and the environment (diet, weather, slaughtering procedures) influence ruminant meat quality. Ruminants can degrade and utilize cellulose from forages to produce meat, milk and blood. However, the specific effects of dietary constituents on meat quality are not easy to evaluate. The objective of this work was to determine what is known to date on the effect of grass feeding systems on ruminant meat color and flavor. Information for this paper was gathered by reviewing existing literature on the differences in meat color and flavor between ruminants fed concentrates and animals allowed to graze pasture.

Meat from cattle raised on pasture is reported to be darker than meat from animals raised on concentrates. Several factors including variations in ultimate pH and intramuscular fat content between animals finished on pasture and those finished on concentrates seem to play a major role. Diet affect meat flavor in both sheep and cattle. In sheep pastoral flavor is determined by the branched-chain fatty acids and 3-methylindole (skatole). In cattle the role of skatole seems to be less important than sheep because of the lack of the branched-chain fatty acids. The pastoral flavor seems to be mostly determined by products of oxidation of linoleic acid and its derivatives which derives substantially from grass.

Priolo, A., Micol, D., & Agabriel J. (2001). Effects of grass feeding systems on ruminant meat color and flavor. A review. Anim. Res. 50:185-200.