AUBURN, Ala. – Looks can be deceiving. Contrary to popular belief, cattle with black hair are not necessarily pure Angus beef and it has become increasingly difficult to tell which cows are not purebred.
The popularity of Angus beef has risen greatly in recent years due to a marketing push by the Certified Angus Beef brand. Angus beef is sought by buyers because of the marbled appearance of the beef that results in more tender meat. The high demand for this type of beef has led to cattle being bred to produce more cattle with black hair and consequently more Angus beef.
“Because of their consistent and persistent marketing campaigns, (and their beef is consistent in quality), the Certified Angus Beef product was labeled superior by chefs and consumers,”said Dr. Lisa Kriese-Anderson, Extension animal scientist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and an Auburn University associate professor. “In 1991, the first National Beef Quality Audit found quality and consistency to be the beef industry’s number one problem. Cattle buyers knew Angus had superior marbling (based on research) and started preferring black-hided animals. Breeders of many of the breeds like Simmental and Limousin decided to turn their traditional red animals to black.”
Cattle with black hair are thought to be pure Angus by the uninformed consumer seeking the highest quality beef, but even experts struggle to tell which black cows are purebred Angus, and which are not. Sometimes, based on the conformation of the animal, it is possible to tell whether or not the animal is pure Angus but it is not a perfect guarantee.
“How they made them black originally was that they crossed [the purebred Simmental and Limousin] with a black Angus to obtain the black coat color,” said Kriese-Anderson. “There are many times that you look at a black animal and you know it has Angus in it, but you may not know if its all Angus or not.
Not all black cows are Angus and similarly, not all Angus cattle are black. There is another breed of cattle called Red Angus and the only difference lies with the color of the animals’ coats. It is not as widely known, but Red Angus has just as much marbling in the meat, if not more.
Ultimately upon consuming meat you cannot tell what color the hide was – good meat is good meat and bad meat is bad meat. Consumers should make knowledgeable decisions about what brands of meat they are purchasing based on the quality standards of the beef if it is branded.
No matter the color of the hair of the cattle, a buyer’s satisfaction with their beef purchase will rely on what they look for in a cut of meat and whether they know the best cooking practices for that cut. To avoid dissatisfaction in beef, whether Angus beef or not, it is best to be as informed as possible.
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