I know that freshness has a big impact on the flavor of fish. Flash-frozen sushi-grade fish tastes great raw, and you're supposed to seek out fresher cuts when cooking fish rare (ahi tuna steak, etc).

But I've never seen someone emphasize freshness with beef. Expensive beef is usually well-marbled rather than fresh, so it seems like the raising process is more important.

Why is this? Is freshness simply more important for flavor in foods that are consumed raw (is beef tartare flash-frozen)? Or is there something about seafood that makes it fundamentally tastier when it's freshly caught?

  • 3
    Not only is beef not fresh... it's aged.
    – Catija
    Aug 20, 2016 at 23:45
  • Generally the flesh of fish degenerates more rapidly than red meats.
    – Ken Graham
    Aug 21, 2016 at 4:20
  • 1
    "well-marbled" has nothing to do with "fresh". That is a term used to describe fat content.
    – moscafj
    Aug 22, 2016 at 2:43
  • That's my point @moscafj. Beef quality is seemingly determined by fat content rather than freshness. This is different from fish as far as I can tell, so I was wondering why.
    – eternal
    Aug 22, 2016 at 4:23
  • @eternal, for red meats fat=flavor...and....the enzymatic action of aging=flavor
    – moscafj
    Aug 22, 2016 at 11:45

2 Answers 2


Once an animal is dead, the enzymes in its own cells start degrading its tissue. Enzymatic reactions are complicated, and only work well within a narrow temperature range.

Land animals have a body temperature similar to humans. When they are slaughtered and the flesh is chilled, the enzymes slow down their work a lot.

Fish are "cold blooded" animals. This is usually a misnomer - a snake lounging on a sunlit rock can get quite warm. But fish live in water, which tends to be cold. Their enzymes are very active in the temperature range found in refrigerators. So non frozen fish starts to spoil, and this can't be halted.

People generally use spoilage as an indicator for unsafe food, and are probably not aware that it doesn't apply in this specific case. Also, the decomposition of fish produces some amines which are usually perceived as a very objectionable smell. So people just prefer eating their fish before this decomposition process has progressed much.

Beef's decomposition is slowed down a lot in a refrigerator, and it takes different chemical pathways which do not produce a fishy smell. People even like some of the smells which appear during early decomposition (the gaminess of aged beef). Also, specifically for beef, aging provides tenderization. This is not needed for fish, whose muscles fall apart easily without aging.

  • Plus, to a degree, the enzymatic reactions add flavor or depth to beef, while the very different enzymes and different flesh it's working on make the fish unpleasant to us, even before it's actually unhealthy/bad. Aug 23, 2016 at 20:11

Beef and Lamb are intrinsically free of bacterial contamination IN the meat. The main need to enhance the eating experience with these meats is to allow relaxation of the muscle fibers so the meat is not tough and chewy. Also, because of the internal, natural chemical process involved in this relaxation (Catija refers to it as 'ageing' above) the flavor improves as it happens.

Fish and chicken are the opposite. During initial scaling, cleaning, plucking, handling, the carcass being thin, and the grain of the meat more open, the risk of contamination is extremely high. This presents a relatively short shelf life for you to cook it in, and a high incidence of off flavors developing in the meat.

  • This is simply not true. Beef gets very contaminated during processing, just as any other meat. The reason you are warned about cooking chicken to higher temperatures is that the contamination commonly includes salmonela, which is not usually found in cows.
    – rumtscho
    Aug 22, 2016 at 8:05

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