World Class Meat: What is Wagyu Beef?
“Wagyu” means Japanese cattle - and this is where the story of what wagyu beef is begins.
“[In Japan] the cattle were initially used for work because of the marbling in their flesh — a combination of fat and muscle in their muscular cells. As a result, they were highly sought after because the fat provided them with an energy source to continue work. The marbling resulted in extremely attractive and tasty meat and the cows began to be prized for food as well.”
What Makes Wagyu Beef Different?
The meat that is harvested from a wagyu specimen generally has a different look to it than regular beef because the muscle is riddled with veins of fat the way mold riddles a piece of blue cheese. The highest marbling gives the piece of meat a pinkish hue where you can barely see the red veins of the muscle fibers . When you grab it, it feels soft and pliable, another result of the high fat content.
So, has there always been wagyu beef? How did it come to exist? When did it all start? According to the entity at the front of American wagyu beef, The American Wagyu Association:
“There is some evidence of genetic separation into the wagyu genetic strain as much as 35000 years ago. Modern wagyu cattle are the result of crossing of the native cattle in Japan with imported breeds. Crossing began in 1868 after the Meiji restoration in that year. The government wanted to introduce Western food habits and culture. Brown Swiss, Devon, Shorthorn, Simmental, Ayrshire, and Korean cattle were imported during this period. The infusions of these British, European and Asian breeds were closed to outside genetic infusions in 1910.”
The Search For the Ultimate Beef
As a result of the Japanese people’s search for the ultimate cattle in terms of work efficiency and results, we all got the delectable gift of wagyu beef. There are four Japanese breeds of beef cattle. You have your Japanese black, which consists of around 90% of all fattened cattle in Japan. The other mainly used breed of fattened cattle is the Japanese Brown. Followed by the Japanese Polled. This leaves the Japanese Shorthorn as the remaining source of wagyu beef in Japan consisting of only 1% of the fattened cattle in the archipelago.
Wagyu Cattle Diet and Living Conditions
Most wagyu cattle are raised in southeast Japan. With the cool temperature, sparkly clean water, and the right fertile soil, this area provides an ideal environment to breed, raise, and feed the cattle. The diet these cattle are fed consists of soybeans, mineral water, and tofu, which is rationed at the farmer’s discretion to aid the meat’s fat content. It goes without saying, these animals are fed foods that contain ingredients that are organic and without any hormones or steroids.
In addition to this custom diet, the farmers ensure that the cattle live a stress free, relaxed, and pampered lifestyle. In some farms, the caretakers also make sure to massage the cattle on a weekly basis to help increase the marbling of fat within the muscle fiber. In addition to the conditions the cattle are bred in mentioned above, there are rumours that some farmers actually give the cattle beer. Some even sing to the cows as they brush them and massage them.
This begs the question, what exactly do these farming practices do for the meat in wagyu cattle that separates it from run of the mill beef cattle? In terms of cholesterol, wagyu has the lowest level of any meat, even boasting lower levels than fish and chicken. This is due to the high levels of monounsaturated fat, the same fat found in olive oil, fish, avocado, and almonds. The beef also has a higher concentration of essential fatty acids, and amino acids, which plays a substantial role in the flavor of the beef.
The more marbling a piece of wagyu beef has, the more buttery the profile will be. Beef with lower marbling has a more beefy profile.
What Countries Raise Wagyu Cattle Other Than Japan?
You might wonder, are there any other countries raising cattle the wagyu way? The answer is yes, although Initially the Japanese government was:
“...so worried about keeping these Japanese cows purity that they banned interbreeding with British, European, and Asian types of cows in 1910. Kobe beef, often spoken about as one of the most prized cuts of beef that money can buy, is a subset of wagyu which has to be raised in the Hyogo province of Japan.”
Japan of course is where this story all started and as such Japanese farmers are the originals in the wagyu game. However, there are now two other significant players in the market, Australia and the United States of America.
Australian Wagyu Beef
Australia has the largest wagyu breed association outside Japan. The cattle are raised in Western Australia. As with the Japanese cattle, Australian cattle are fed a diet consisting of foods that are 100% organic, without any hormones or genetic modifiers. Western Australia has some of the cleanest grass in the world, as well as having an ideal climate in which to raise the cattle.
The wagyu in Australia are fed grass for the first three quarters of their lives, and an organic vegetarian grain diet for the final quarter of their lives. This is to ensure that the marbling and aesthetic aspect of the meat are optimal. In addition to the conventional ways of feeding these wagyu beef cattle, the cattle bred in Western Australia's Margaret River region often have red wine added to their diets.
American Wagyu Beef
What about the United States? In terms of Lomelos American wagyu, the cattle are raised in Iowa and in Wisconsin. As with the other two wagyu cultures, the american wagyu cattle’s diet is all organic and free of hormones and modifiers and is all grass fed for the first three quarters of the life cycle, and vegetarian grain fed for the last quarter. According to the American Wagyu Association:
“Wagyu is arguably the best and most expensive beef money can buy. With its exceptional marbling, superior tenderness and exquisite flavor, it’s no wonder wagyu is the pinnacle of the beef world.Through careful genetic selection and feeding, wagyu producers can create an experience for connoisseurs unmatched by any other beef. From executive chefs to the weekend barbecue fan, wagyu offers a level of quality that can be enjoyed by everyone. And with its proven health benefits, choosing wagyu isn’t just a treat for your taste buds, it’s great for your heart as well.”
How to Enjoy Wagyu Beef
Now on to the best part. How many ways can you eat wagyu? Or in how many versions can it be eaten? Does it come in meatballs? Well guess what, any way you can have beef, you can have wagyu, after all the parts don't change, the only thing that changes is how those parts come to be. Hot dogs, burgers, tomahawks, bone in rib eyes, a cow is a cow. The difference comes in the form of the diet, grooming, and breeding practices. A single wagyu specimen can be sold for anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000, and sometimes even more depending on several factors like weight, and the diet that it has been fed.
Wagyu Beef Grading
And what about the grade of wagyu itself, is all wagyu the same? The answer is no. The quality of the marbled fat within the muscle fibers provides one of the answers as to the quality of the wagyu. This classification uses grades to categorize the quality. Grade A is the best, whereas grade C being represents a lower level of marbling. The second part of the classification is reflected with numbers. The assigned number pertains to the meat quality score. For example the highest level is A5.
This might beg the question, what is the Ferrari of the Ferraris if you will? What is the best wagyu beef on the planet? The best of the best. The tippy top of the meat experience.
According to Business insider, the rarest steak in the world is Olive Wagyu. This meat comes from wagyu cattle that have had pressed dried olive peels mixed with their regular meals and feed. “Ordinary wagyu,” if it can be called that, can be anywhere up to $200 a pound. However, that is not the case with Olive Wagyu. According to Business Insider, An Olive Wagyu steak can be sold anywhere from $180 to $300.
So, whether you’re celebrating a birthday, grilling franks and burgers for the big game, or cooking up dinner for that special person in your life, wagyu can make you look like the ultimate culinary hero. In terms of flavour, tenderness, and health, wagyu is the way to go.