Veal vs Beef cubes image presentation

Did you know that we, as consumers, and perhaps you dear reader, are not the only ones wondering what veal actually means? At least, till 2005, also European Commission was not quite sure about its definition and they launched a survey meant to reveal “what characteristics consumers expect veal to have as well as on the production of calves” (here you can check the EU press release from 2005).

EU worked for answering to this for some years and decided on a definition in 2008. But what about the USDA way of understanding what veal means? What’s the essence behind this type of meat and what makes it different than beef?

First things first

The reasoning for writing this article comes from the fact that consumers often hear the statement “beef and veal” but they are rarely conscious about the differences and details between these two names.

Many of us tend in this way, to take both of the meanings interchangeably, and sometimes, we assume things that are not, instead of setting a clear perspective that increases our awareness as potential consumers of veal.

Time to get our feet wet and know the official way

We wanted to point out first, the two more official perspectives (European Commission and USDA frameworks for classifying bovine meat as veal) and then move further into more details (that go beyond the standards or formal terms). We aim to comprise pieces of information that tell the veal’s story also with the words of a consumer from two different perspectives: one that involves education on veal and another one that is less official and deals with the reasoning behind eating it (if it’s actually worth it, in comparison with beef, from a nutritional point of view).

EU image about veal

European Union established a more clear image of veal in 2008, as the meat coming from young cattle aged 0 to 12 months. In this context, they framed as well two classes of veal:

  • Class V for calves younger than 8 months
  • Class Z for calves between 8 and 12 months (labeled more specifically as “rosé veal”, or its equivalent wording)

So shortly said, within the European perspective, any meat originating from bovine animals older than 12 months classifies as beef (per the official document press release).

How USDA defines veal ?

According to the USDA’s perspective, veal is the “meat from a calf or young beef animal” which is “raised until about 16 to 18 weeks of age, weighing up to 450 pounds“.

This definition becomes further even more specific because it connects to what a calf implies in a more general way. A calf is a young bovine animal of any sex, up to about 9 months of age, with a maximum weight of 750 pounds. Therefore we can deduce from here that not any calf can be veal.

Although USDA mentions the fact that male dairy calves (or bulls) are used in the veal industry, most people do not realize this detail. The logic behind using bulls for veal production, rather than dairy cows (also called heifers) implies nothing more than the way the process of milk production and birth-giving comes from. Male calves can’t influence replenishing the milking herd because they can’t produce milk. Bulls are generally not used to produce beef either. So dairy farmers/ producers will select only a few of all the bull calves born that will participate in the breeding process.

Types of american veal

USDA mentions about two types of veal:

  • the “Bob” veal or the so-called Bob Calves (is marketed up to 3 weeks of age or at a weight of 150 pounds)
  • the “Special-Fed” veal (or the “white” veal), represents the majority of veal calves in the US.

Any type of veal is graded according to the following grades: prime, choice, good, standard, utility.

Theoretically speaking, Special-Fed means that the calves have “specially controlled diets containing iron and 40 other essential nutrients, including amino acids, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins” (USDA official source). The balanced diet containing all necessary nutrients seems to have a clear effect on the meat’s color, taste, and texture. As you might have already recalled, this type of veal is a light pink piece of meat with a mild taste and soft texture.

Biologically speaking, the light color results from the age of the calf and the level of myoglobin (level of iron content which darkens the color) in the muscle. In order to control the level of myoglobin without harming the calf’s health, the animal receives a monitored balanced milk-based diet. Therefore, the meat’s process of becoming darker as color slows down, and additionally, the meat seems to bring more nutritional value for the consumer.

  • the “grain-fed” or the “red” veal

We didn’t want to forget about another type of veal, not specifically mentioned by USDA (the “red” or the “grain-fed” veal) which includes calves that are raised on grain, hay, or other solid food, in addition to milk. In comparison with the “white veal”, its color is darker and has some marbling and fat. As you may guess, the darkness of the color comes from the differences in the calve’s diet, which gradually includes corn and protein supplements after about 6-8 weeks of a milk-based diet.

What makes veal different than beef ?

First it comes about its texture…


Because of the calve’s diet and the fact that milk-fed animals don’t have time to develop muscular tissue, the consumer will benefit from a higher tenderness than can’t be found on any other red meat.

Secondly, it comes about the nutritional value (on some aspects)

People seem to have the idea that especially the milk-fed veal, contains much more nutrients than beef. So its nutritional value seems to differentiate this meat from the rest of the beef meat. What exactly is “much more” in comparison with the other cuts of beef, for what nutrients more specifically?

However, each cut of veal/beef (for example, whether is the shoulder part or loin part), reflects a slightly different nutritional composition.

For having more details in terms of nutrients, we further based our affirmations about this aspect, upon a study from 2007 concerning the nutritional composition of red meat on a sample of Australian calves and beef animals.

Of course, as you might guess, we don’t aim to generalize these values on any piece of veal/beef in this world. The “nutritional composition will vary somewhat according to breed, feeding regimen, season and meat cut”. Whether it is a European or American veal, we rather want you to have a rough comparable image to associate further with when you think about a possible advantage of consuming veal over beef.

Additionally, we took into consideration the USDA’s available nutrients data per 100 grams of meat type. But since there could not be established an exact correspondence between a specific type of meat cut analyzed (on veal vs beef level), we could not confirm the nutrients’ comparison between the two, using their data as it was. So we had to average the values of each nutrient along with all reported types of veal cuts, respectively beef cuts (a similar approach was found in the study from 2007 as well).

Is it actually worth consuming it in terms of nutritional value ?

Now it’s time for the best of both worlds: some simple and useful reasoning behind veal’s nutritional value.

  • From a nutrients perspective (although many would expect the contrary), the veal’s average levels of vitamin A, Thiamin (B1) seem quite low in comparison with beef (according to the average values derived from USDA data). For these vitamines, older animals tend to have higher concentrations (the same behavior was seen in the study from 2007 as well).
  • The average levels in B12, Riboflavin (B2), and B6 are NOT considerably higher than the ones in beef (they are more or less the same concentration).
  • However, veal contains on average, higher levels of Niacin (B3) than beef meat.
Nutrients comparison representation between veal and beef (first part of nutrients)
Nutrients comparison representation between veal and beef (first part of nutrients, with a focus on vitamins)

  • When looking down the following graph, from the viewpoint of minerals, veal is richer than beef in Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Sodium.
  • On the other side, beef meat contains on average more Potassium, Zinc, Selenium, Iron.
  • The level of Calcium is more or less the same between both types of meat (slightly higher for beef, as per average values derived from the USDA data).
Nutrients comparison representation between veal and beef (second part of nutrients, with a focus on minerals)
Nutrients comparison representation between veal and beef (second part of nutrients, with a focus on minerals)

So there is a kind of trade-off in the end on both sides. Similar results were found on the Australian samples of meat as well. We can’t say that veal is definitely better to choose than beef from the minerals’ perspective, at least.

Carbs, lipids and fats
  • Eating veal is good especially for those people who have a low carb diet because veal has zero carbs, but this isn’t enough as an argument. Beef is really low as carbs too.
  • However, veal has lower cholesterol and calorie levels than beef, which is essential in some diets. It is lean or extra lean and it has a lot less fat than beef meat
Nutrients comparison representation between veal and beef (third part of nutrients, with a focus on calories lipids and carbs)
Nutrients comparison representation between veal and beef (third part of nutrients, with a focus on calories lipids and carbs)

As a final thought…

Overall speaking, from a nutritional perspective, we can understand why one would choose veal over beef under the context of a need for a significantly lower caloric/fats diet, and a lower level of cholesterol, adding the situation when one craves for its melting soft texture. However, on average, the vitamin levels (besides Niacin) are quite close to one another-B6, B2, B12 (no matter one would choose), even slightly lower than beef, for some minerals (such as Calcium).

It stays to rephrase, that beef is richer in vitamins A, Thiamin (B1) on average, whereas in the area of minerals, there is a kind of a trade-off in choosing veal (more Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Sodium but less Potassium, Zinc, Selenium, Iron in comparison with beef). What refers to calories, fats, veal could be considered a winner. Thus, it is up to you which one to choose as different people have different requirements, needs, price points, and preferences.

Let us know if you’ve found this article helpful and have a delicious reading further with us :).