Uruguayan Beef: Amazing Asado’s Acclaim

Margarita Ceretta Arocena , 18.08.2017

Data suggests Uruguay has the highest average meat consumption per capita in the world. But why does meat, especially beef, play such an important role in the self proclaimed „smallest country in South America“? Our country expert Margarita Ceretta Arocena explains the culinary and cultural importance of the Uruguayan „asado“.

Introduction: How is beef in Uruguay consumed?

Beef meat is consumed in Uruguay mainly as midday and dinner meal, as well as in social events like meetings and celebrations. One can argue that Uruguayan society has traditionally expressed strong positive attitudes and behaviors towards beef which are reflected in statistics. As claimed by Instituto Nacional de Carnes (INAC), (the national public organization responsible for promotion and policy regulation of meat in Uruguay) Uruguay is considered a „society with high levels of meat consumption“. The average meat consumption in Uruguay in 2015 was 98,7 kilograms per inhabitant per year, where beef plays the major role (57,6 kg per inhabitant per year), followed by poultry (20,4 kg/inhabit/year), pork (16,9 kg/inhabit/year), and sheep (3,8 kg/inhabit/year). Beef clearly plays a major role in Uruguay: according to a survey carried out by the national media outlet La República, among the 10 favorite dishes of Uruguayans, 8 dishes consist of beef or are prepared with it. The tradtitional asado takes an uncontested first place. It consists not only of a special beef cut (ribs), but also a particular style of barbecue cooking over an open fire using firewood. Asado, which includes not only ribs but other cuts such as tripe (chinchulin und choto), molleja, matambre, and sausages (morcillas, chorizos), is considered an icon of Uruguayan gastronomy. It is typically consumed in restaurants called parrillas or in private homes equipped with barbecues made of a metal frame and concrete. Other favorite dishes including beef meat are the chivito: a sandwich prepared with a special cut lomo (beef tenderloin); milanesas (Schnitzel); hot-dogs (known as panchos in Uruguay), choripán (sausage sandwich) and empanadas made of meat. Traditionally, beef meat was purchased at butcher shops (carnicerías), due to the supermarket expansion in the last decades meat can nowadays however be bought in most supermarkets as well.

What do Uruguayans associate with beef?

Leading exporting sector Meat is considered a central element of the economy in Uruguay. Former president José Mujica, during his speech in United Nations Conference Rio+20, claimed that [„Uruguay is a country of 3 million persons and 13 millions cows“].(http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/actualidad/vivir/jose-pepe-mujica-regano-al-mundo-articulo-356594) This quote still echoes in the media and people of Uruguay today. Cattle production is known as one of the most important economical sectors of the country, which is also reflected in the high frequency of appearance in national media. For this article, we analyzed a small sample of news articles in order to find out the frequency of appearance of the topic meat within the most read media in Uruguay during 1 month: El País, El Observador and La República. A total of 31 articles mentioning the topic meat were collected between May 6, 2017 and June 6, 2017. Out of those articles, the sub-topic with the highest mentions was the topics of international markets (18), dealing with barriers and opportunities of Uruguay in the meat´s international market, policies and volume of exportations, between others. In close relationship to this, the topic domestic production (9) was the second most frequent topic, dealing primarily with factors impacting on volume and condition of production. To a lesser extent, news related to the job market situation in the sectors of meat production (3) and Gastronomy (1) were found.

National Identity and Pride Uruguayan beef is something to be proud of for most Uruguayans. Regarded by the national press as meeting high quality standards, this image is enhanced by international media press which often places [Uruguay among the best countries to eat meat in] (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-24/around-the-world-in-30-steaks-the-best-from-las-vegas-to-tokyo). Other positive associations revolve around Uruguay being the first country of the world with a traceability system, meaning that every piece of meat can be traced back to its origin. The praise of international media around the world is big point of pride in a country, that regards itself as one of the smallest countries in Latin America.

Encounter Uruguayans associate their asado with emotional elements such as reunion, get-together and friendship. Taking part in an asado means more than sharing food. It means participating in a ritual where the asador (the person in charge of the asado) plays a central role. A common discussion among Uruguayans is regarding the title of the best asador in the group, often accompanied with tips for preparing the best asado

Beef Consumption Data in Uruguay

National and international reports place Uruguayans as the citizens with the highest average of meat consumption per capita per year in the world. In addition, consumption has increased along the years: between 2006 and 2016 Uruguayans ate 6,4 kilograms more per capita in average, despite the fact that the price of meat has also increased by 21% in 10 years. Research conducted in 2014 found that meat consumption in Uruguay is inelastic in relation to price, suggesting that Uruguayans consume meat independently from the variable price. However such research did not differentiate among socioeconomic strata and did take into account, that other research on the topic has found that economical crisis does exert an impact over meat consumption in Uruguay. According to the last national survey of household economics and decision-making carried out by the Uruguayan Institute of Statistics between 2005 and 2006, those with highest income consume between three and four times more meat that those with less income. In addition, differences of consumptions depending on the beef cut can be found. Minced meat is a common ingredient across all socioeconomic strata in Uruguay, however while households with the highest income consume low-fat minced meat, those with lower incomes buy the common one, including higher fat levels. Among households with higher incomes, there are specific cuts which are consumed up to 8 times more than in lower income´s homes. Those include pulpa (beef inside), bola de lomo (beef knuckle), cuadril (beef rump), peceto (beef eye round), bife angosto (beef striploin), are some examples. On the other hand, there are other cuts which are more common in lower or middle class households, most importantly aguja (beef chuck), and falda (beef navel). Asado (ribs) is mostly consumed by middle and high class householders. To conclude, beef meat plays a major role in Uruguay due to its agricultural tradition and Uruguay is known as the highest meat consumer per capita in the world. Despite some evidence suggesting that part of the society is changing its lifestyle and eating more vegetables and fruits, the numbers still show a major dominance of meat in the diet of Uruguayans. More data regarding consumption habits across the last 10 years are expected to be found in the next survey of household economics and decision-making 2016-2017 by the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas (INE), which is currently on-going.

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