Ribeye steak

We all know that marbling matters. Marbling is a main factor that determines the grade of beef, and it’s what gives beef its flavor, tenderness, and juiciness.

What might not matter, according to a new study by Kansas State University meat scientist Travis O’Quinn, is whether that marbling is fine or coarse. This is significant, the authors note, because 80% of branded beef programs don’t accept coarsely marbled beef.

For the study, researchers gave a panel of consumers and a panel of trained sensory experts nine types of steak — top choice, low choice, and select, with each grade subdivided into coarse, medium, and fine marbling. While the consumers were able to tell the difference between choice and select beef, they found no difference between the marbling textures. Meanwhile, the trained sensory experts said that the coarsely marbled steaks were juicier and more flavorful, a finding that goes against the idea that fine marbling is better.

In a further condition, consumers looked at pictures of the steaks and indicated their willingness to purchase. Again, there was no difference between marbling textures.

O’Quinn noted that these findings could affect the management of branded beef programs, noting: “If consumers aren’t willing to pay more for fine- or medium-texture beef, and they don’t taste the difference, then there’s really no reason to discriminate against those coarse marbled steaks.”

Read more about the study.

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