It is no coincidence that Japanese Wagyu beef is one of the most expensive meats in the world. With the perfect blend of lean meat and fat and great flavor when processed, Wagyu beef is used to prepare dishes in luxurious 5-star restaurants and under the talented hands of chefs with many years of experience.
An Introduction to Wagyu Beef
The term Wagyu is rather self-explanatorily: Wa means Japanese , and Gyu refers to cattle in general. Therefore, "Wagyu beef" in Japanese means Japanese beef. Although Wagyu beef originates from Japan, not every cow in Japan produces the expensive Wagyu meat that often appears on high-end restaurant menus. The fundamental difference comes from the genome of Wagyu cattle itself, which is considered to have the best genetics. When asked about the best Wagyu in Japan, the majority of Japanese people will likely respond that Mie Prefecture, more specifically Matsusaka - one of the priciest places with steak only butchered from virgin female cows, Olive Wagyu or Miyazaki Wagyu as the top brands of Japanese Wagyu.
This means that other breeds or even Japan domestic breeds, even if raised by the most "excellent" Wagyu farmers and under the same care conditions as Wagyu cows, cannot produce the "right" Wagyu flavours. But Wagyu cows nowadays are not only bred in Japan. In some countries, like the US or Australia, Wagyu farmers raise Japanese-style cattle that carry the same gene code as Wagyu cows, thus producing the same flavor and quality as Wagyu cattle from Japan. Thus, we sometimes have Wagyu variations such as Australian and American Wagyu beef.
Why Wagyu Beef Is So Expensive?
High grade Wagyu is one of the most highly prized beef breeds in the world. In 2002, a Wagyu cow was released from the farm with a selling price of up to $ 400,000 - equivalent to a supercar. But what makes Wagyu so expensive?
Strict Guidelines and Breeding Process of Wagyu Cattle
The Japanese cattle industry is extremely strict, requiring expensive labor and extreme genetic testing by the Japanese government, especially when Japanese beef exports have been increasing for the past few years. In Japan, Wagyu is produced using four main breeds: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled.
In Japan, Wagyu production takes more than 30 months, 6-7 times longer than this breed when raised in other countries such as Australia, the USA, and Canada. Japanese cow are fed with cereals, grass, and fresh and dried fish at a young age in fattening farm. Plus, 70% of Wagyu's regular feed is provided with a mix of fibre and high energy concentrate from a mixture of wheat, hay, rye grass, corn, and peanuts. Until 2 - 3 months old, Wagyu cows will be on a special diet. The temperature of the barn must always be comfortable and cool, especially in the summer. It must always be maintained in the range of 18 - 27 degrees Celsius.
Cattle raised for meat in Japan must be raised and fully comply with Japan's strict standards for beef to be recognized as Wagyu beef. Wagyu cattle are fed several meals a day, mainly on fresh grass, and they are only slaughtered at 30 to 40 months, meaning a Wagyu cow will take up to 3 years to reach the best threshold for meat. This helps them live longer than other cow breeds.
The Japanese are also very meticulous when they let the cattle listen to music, get massaged, brushed with stiff brush, fed beer, ... every day to achieve the best quality of meat. In some fattening farms, farmers massage the cattle every day, especially pregnant cows and breeding cattle, sometimes with Japanese white sake to reduce stress and increase blood circulation for them. They also listen to classical music very often as this will keep the Wagyu spirit happy for most of their life, which makes their meat tastier.
One of the most unique features of authentic Wagyu is Japan's security and traceability system, in which every cattle has a birth certificate and nose print. Those documents help to ensure the purebred origin of the mother cattle, its processing plant, as well as the three generations of this cow's ancestors.
Excellent Quality Wagyu Steak
With such a rigorous and thoughtful breeding process, the superior genetics, and cattle bred for physical endurance, it is not surprising that no other beef has the perfect texture and meat ratio like Wagyu. The fat veins are perfectly interwoven in each fiber, shaped like marbing, very eye-catching and attractive.
The fat of Japanese standard beef is studied to possess a large proportion of saturated fat that is both delicious and very healthy. Plus, their breeding conditions even give them more intramuscular fat cells. It is thanks to this perfect texture that Wagyu beef is known as the best quality beef in the world, with a taste that is far superior to others.
The standard Wagyu steak must fully meet the strict requirements in terms of aesthetics, meat quality, and great taste. Wagyu beef contains rich marbling, which stems from intramuscular fat cells. Those marbling are not greasy because they are made of unsaturated fats that are very good for health.
When enjoying authentic Wagyu , you will easily detect the rare perfect aroma, sweetness, its buttery taste, and tenderness. The perfect blend of each grain of meat and marbled fat gives consumers a feeling of soft, fatty aroma that melts right on the tip of the tongue. This is definitely a taste experience that makes you hard to resist. Therefore, when you want to cook delicious dishes with Wagyu beef, you do not need to season or marinate too much. This will lose the inherent characteristic flavor of the meat.
High Nutritional Value
The reason Wagyu steak is high cost is because it contains many nutrients such as omega-3, omega-6 with a ratio that is much higher than that of regular beef. The characteristic of Wagyu beef is that there are thick fat veins alternating between the layers of meat, giving the appearance of pink marbling. Their fat is studied to have a larger proportion of monounsaturated fat than saturated fats in other types of red meats, which is both delicious and healthy. It is this texture that makes this meat dish have a delicious flavor that is superior to other types of beef. Wagyu beef is often used to make beefsteak to keep the tenderness and deliciousness of the meat
The Scarcity of Wagyu Cattle
Another reason why Japanese beef is so high cost because only cows that are raised according to strict rules and passed by the Japanese government's inspection are recognized as Wagyu. In other words, the number of Wagyu beef is rare, of which Kobe beef, which belongs to the Tajima-gyu breed that is grown and even slaughtered in Hyogo Prefecture, is even rarer. It is known that only about 3,000 Kobe cows are released each year, accounting for 0.6% of Japan's cow consumption. On average, only 3 Kobe cows are sold globally every day.
Not to mention it is mainly consumed in Japan, and only a very small amount is exported outside. Plus, this is also a type of meat that is not allowed to be carried out of Japan. Thus, even Japanese who want to eat Kobe beef have to wait in line for several months.
Wagyu High Evaluation Criteria
The last and possibly the crucial reason why Wagyu is so highly prized is due to the Japanese' evaluation process of a Wagyu steak. Japan has a thorough evaluation system to check the quality of each piece of steak. The National Cattle Breeding Center of Japan will store information about the cow's origin, place of birth, fattening farm location, fattening date, and many other documents. The Japan Meat Grading Association also rates the Wagyu steak based on how much meat can be yielded, marbling fat level, color, firmness, and overall quality. And A5 will be the highest score. Most Wagyu beef will score between A4 and A5.
International Variations of Wagyu
Another famous cut of steak from central Japan's Kansai region is Kobe, which is prepared from steers or castrated bulls.
There is a certain import quota of Japanese steak to the US, which falls short of demand. Thus, a Wagyu industry has emerged in the US. In addition to the cattle breeding technique and rating system, the biggest difference between the two types lies in the breed characteristics: Japanese Wagyu cattle are purebred, while in the United States they are hybrids. Therefore, American Wagyu beef does not possess umami (sweet taste of meat) as well as perfectly "melt in the mouth" fat veins, typical of Japanese products. But if you have the opportunity, try to experience many types of Wagyu meat from different countries to make your own comparison.
Outside the Japanese border, the largest herd of Wagyu cattle is located in Australia. Just like the Wagyu cattle from the US, the Australian Wagyu beef is also a hybrid and doesn't produce greasy, premium cuts like the purebred Japanese breed. If Americans often mix with the Angus breed, Australians often use Holsteins for breeding, creating a softer steak and less beefy flavor than American Wagyu.
Hopefully, the article above has helped you learn something new and fascinating about Wagyu, as well as why it is the most expensive steak in the world. Wagyu beef merits are the top option in the culinary world and are a dish well worth enjoying due to the nutrients excellent for the body, eye-catching, attractive appearance, and great taste.