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We've all seen various labels on our food. They're everywhere. And at times they're more confusing than helpful. We've all seen the Organic, Heart Healthy, Non-GMO, Grass-fed, Paleo, Keto, and so on... But what does it all mean, and what does it have to do with our meat??
While the number of food labels seem endless, you can rest assured there are only three that you need to concern yourself with when it comes to meat (specifically beef). These are referred to as Grades. Technically there are more Grades, but we'll focus on these three because they are what most consumers buy. These Grades are Prime, Choice, and Select. They are not to be confused with labels such as Angus, Wagyu, or Kobe, as these are labels that signify the specific breed of cattle and not the quality of beef (although these breeds are well known for their exceptional quality).
So, what do these grades mean? Are they a scale of how nutritious the meat is? How healthy the cow was? The overall quality of the cow itself?
According to the USDA website, "Beef is graded in two ways: quality grades for tenderness, juiciness and flavor; and yield grades for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass", which basically means that it's graded for how good the meat will taste when cooked. Typically with beef, the higher the marbling (how much fat is interconnected within the muscle), the better it tastes when cooked. So the higher the marbling, the better it will taste, and thus the more expensive it will be. For example, that's why Wagyu beef is so expensive; the amount of marbling is significantly higher than other breeds of cattle which leads to its exceptional taste.
The lower grades do not indicate nutrition, instead they signify how tasty the meat will be once it's prepared. In fact, according to the USDA "... grade shields are highly regarded as symbols of safe, high-quality American beef. Quality grades are widely used as a "language" within the beef industry". Essentially, it's a coded message for the USDA to let you know how delicious the meat will be. Yes, it really is that simple.
That's not to say that the grading process is simple. In fact the criteria for prime grade beef is very strict. Only about 3-4% of beef on the market at any time is graded as Prime. Choice makes up about 50% of the remaining market share, and Select quantities varies from season to season among the remaining six Grades of USDA Beef. This is largely what plays a role in the value of Prime grade beef. It's the least available to the public, and mostly distributed among Restaurants and Hotels.
What does this mean for you, the consumer? Well, that depends on what you want from your cut of beef. Prime is widely regarded as superior due to the implications of healthy cattle being fattier. In fact, the marbling from USDA Prime and Grass-fed beef is packed with healthy Omega-3’s and CLA’s, as well as other nutrient dense fats. Does this mean that fattier beef is healthier? Again, that depends on your overall lifestyle and diet. A well balanced diet should include a wide variety of protein sources like chicken, fish, lamb, and our favorite Prime Beef.
So the next time you sit down to enjoy a delicious steak dinner with your family, know it's a part of an overall healthy lifestyle and not just a guilty pleasure. Shop our USDA Prime Beef today.