Consumer Acceptance of Ribeye Steaks from Forage-Finished Steers

Linda Benedict, Prinyawiwatkul, Witoon, Janes, Marlene E., Scaglia, Guillermo, Malekian, Fatemeh  |  11/13/2014 8:09:18 PM

Damir D. Torrico, Wisdom Wardy, Kennet Carabante, Kairy Pujols, Guillermo Scaglia, Fatemeh Malekian, Marlene E. Janes and Witoon Prinyawiwatkul

Demand for forage-finished over grain-finished beef is rapidly growing because of its benefits for human health and the environment. However, there are some differences in flavor between forage- and grain-finished beefs, mainly due to differences in their chemical compositions. In general, U.S. consumers prefer grain-finished over forage-finished beef in some sensory attributes including flavor, juiciness, tenderness and overall acceptability. Differences in sensory quality between forage- and grain-finished beef can most likely be explained by the production systems that also affect the levels of energy intake, days on feeding, growth rate, age of the animal, fat deposition, fat composition and carcass weight.

Sensory perception of food is influenced by memory, emotions and culture. For instance, Hispanic and Asian consumers may have a different preference for forage-finished beef compared to Americans because steers in these regions are mainly fed with forage. The challenge, therefore, is to not only understand the effect of feeding regimens of steers on consumer acceptance of steaks, but also the influence of demographics to help identify niche markets.

According to the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics and Asians are the two fastest growing ethnic groups in the U.S and important ethnic groups to consider for product marketing. The Hispanic population is expected to grow in the U.S. from 53.3 million in 2012 to 128.8 million in 2060; the Asian population is expected to grow in the U.S. from 15.9 million in 2012 to 34.4 million in 2060. However, little information is available on the perception of the sensory characteristics of forage- versus grain-finished ribeye steaks of these two populations in comparison to Caucasian and African-American populations.

LSU AgCenter researchers evaluated sensory acceptability of cooked ribeye steaks from forage- finished steers and commercial grain-fed steaks across Hispanic, Asian and American (white and African-American) populations as affected by the feeding regimes and cooking methods. A total of 336 consumers (112 Hispanics, 112 Asians and 112 Americans) participated in the sensory evaluation of ribeye steaks. They evaluated ribeye steaks from three forage systems, as described in the article on Beef Cattle Performance on Three Forage Systems, and one commercial grain-finished steak. The steaks from forage-fed cattle are labeled S1, S2 and S3. The grain-fed steak is labeled with a C (Figure 1).

The ribeye steaks were cooked by two methods: one-sided grilling or two-sided grilling. For the one-sided grilling method, thawed steaks were placed on a pre-heated iron stove plate. For the two-sided grilling method, thawed steaks were placed in a pre-heated clamshell-style grill. Consumers indicated their preferred degree of doneness and cooking methods, then evaluated cooked steaks for sensory liking of appearance, beef aroma,  beef flavor, juiciness, tenderness and overall liking, as well as purchase intent.

Researchers found that grilling was the most preferred steak cooking method among the three populations, although differences between one-sided and two-sided grilling were not observed. Regarding the degree of doneness, Hispanics and Asians preferred medium and medium-well, while Americans preferred medium and medium-rare. Hispanics and Americans liked the raw appearance (Figure 1) of S3 steaks better than S1, S2 (leaner steaks) and C (more marbling). For cooked steaks, Asians reported lower liking scores compared to Hispanics and Americans. For juiciness and tenderness, C and S3 consistently had higher mean scores compared to S1 and S2 across all three populations. Among forage-finished steaks, the slightly higher scores for juiciness and tenderness of S3 may be attributed to the type of forage. The grazing period that potentially affects beef characteristics is the last 60-80 days before the animal is harvested. This means that in this study only ryegrass in S1 and only ryegrass and clovers in S2 and S3 likely contributed to texture differences. Generally, commercial steaks (C) and S3 steaks had higher scores for all sensory attributes across the three populations. Purchase intents of all forage-finished steaks (S1, S2 and S3) were higher for Hispanics and Americans compared to Asians (Figure 2).

In conclusion, consumer liking of forage-finished ribeye steaks differed among Hispanics, Asians and Americans. Results indicated that the raw appearance and overall fat appearance of S3 steaks were the most visually preferred for Hispanics and Americans. However, Asians visually preferred S1 and S2 over S3 and C (Figure 1). For all populations, overall liking for C and S3 steaks was higher compared to the other systems. Specifically for Hispanics, tenderness was the most relevant sensory attribute, whereas overall cooked steak appearance was more important for Asians. However, for Americans, overall beef flavor was considered the most significant attribute.

Damir D. Torrico, Wisdom Wardy and Kennet Carabante are Ph.D. students and Kairy Pujols is an M.S. student in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences; Guillermo Scaglia is an associate professor at the Iberia Research Station, Jeanerette; Fatemeh Malekian is a professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Baton Rouge; and Marlene E. Janes and Witoon Prinyawiwatkul are professors in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences.

This article was published in the fall 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.

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